La. Tech hosts Utah State in key conference game
RUSTON — Louisiana Tech has relied on its high-scoring offense to reach the brink of a second straight Western Athletic Conference crown.
Coach Sonny Dykes’ big concern this week is whether that formula will work for the No. 19 Bulldogs (9-1, 4-0 WAC) again Saturday when defensive-minded Utah State (8-2, 4-0) visits with first place in the league on the line.
“You are living on borrowed time, because a lot of times if you come up against a really good defense, it is going to be difficult, and it will be for us on Saturday,” Dykes said. “We know that. Our players know that, so we are going to have to play better team football on Saturday than we played over the last couple of weeks.”
No one questions that Louisiana Tech has one of the best offenses in the nation. The Bulldogs have scored 50 points or more in eight of their 10 games. Colby Cameron has thrown for 3,283 yards, 27 touchdowns and zero interceptions, setting an NCAA record with a streak of 419 pass attempts without being picked off.
Freshman running back Kenneth Dixon has 1,052 yards on the ground and leads the nation with 24 touchdowns rushing.
And it’s not like Tech has been doing all this against weak competition.
The Bulldogs have won two road games against teams from BCS automatic-qualifying conferences, defeating Illinois of the Big Ten 52-24 and Virginia of the ACC 44-38. Tech’s only loss this season came against No. 9 Texas A&M — the only team to beat previous No. 1 Alabama — and the Bulldogs went touchdown for touchdown with A&M in that 59-57 thriller in Shreveport last month. To beat the Bulldogs, Utah State coach Gary Andersen said, “You better score and move the ball. ... It’s arena football.”
Utah State’s only losses came against BYU and Wisconsin, and both were close.
The Aggies’ defense is rated 12th nationally, allowing only 13.5 points per game.
“The way our defense plays allows us to take more chances on the offensive side of the ball,” Utah State running back Kerwynn Williams said. “It’s a good thing for us, knowing that our defense has our back if something were to go wrong. They make big plays and I think they’ll continue that this game.”
Unlike Tech, Utah State has often looked strong on both sides of the ball, resulting in some rather lopsided victories. The Aggies have won their past four games by an average margin of nearly 30 points.
“You go and watch the film and you look up midway through the second quarter and they are usually ahead 28-0 or 24-0 or 31-0,” Dykes said of the Aggies. “It seems like they have gotten off to a great start with people and have really been able to hold them off.”
Chuckie Keeton has completed more than 68 percent of his passes this season for 2,671 yards and 23 touchdowns against seven interceptions. His ability to distribute the ball to a variety of players makes him less predictable; five different receivers have caught at least 23 passes.
Last year, Tech pulled out a 24-17 victory at Utah State, and it was a defensive play — an interception return for a score — that made the difference for the Bulldogs. The Aggies have been looking forward to the rematch ever since.
“We always had them kind of marked on our schedule coming from the offseason just because we knew it was one of the games we should have won last year,” Keeton said. “To have it be on this magnitude where a WAC championship is kind of on the line is a great feeling.”