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2014 LATech game page

Louisiana Tech 76, Rice 31



COME TO PAPA -- Zach Wright hauls in pigskin to set up 51-yard touchdown pass and run which made it 21-17, LaTech, late in the first half (Mark Anderson photo)

RUSTON, La. (Nov. 30) -- When a wide-open Mario Hull hauled in a 35-yard touchdown pass from Driphus Jackson to cut the Lousiana Tech lead over Rice to 28-24 three plays deep into the third quarter Saturday, it appeared as if the sun had broken through the rain clouds.

"I thought that was a game we were about to take over," Rice head coach David Bailiff remarked afterwards.

It was the second time in the game that the Owls had cut the LaTech lead by two touchdowns, and, coming out of the halftime locker room, circumstances suggested a classic swing in momentum toward the visitors.

After all, the Owls had done it to North Texas. They'd done it to Hawaii. In both cases, they trailed at halftime after a lackluster effort out of the box. In both cases, they'd shut down the enemy offense in the second half while rolling up enough offense of their own to win going away.

In Ruston, it was different. While the Bulldogs might have found themselves suddenly facing only a scant, four-point lead, everything was under control for head coach Skip Holtz and his defensive coordinator, Manny Diaz.

It was simple. All they'd done was study the Rice game videos, all of them, and detected a consistent series of tendencies on offense and a consistent set of vulnerabilities on defense.

We'll beat you deep, and do it repeatedly, the Tech game plan went -- just like Notre Dame, A&M, Old Dominion, and Marshall did in your four previous losses.

And on offense, we know you have a quarterback with a wounded wing, and over the course of the season you've pounded your five-foot-seven running back into silliness with his constant exercises in futility into the middle of the line.

We'll make sure that gambit is shut down, and then if you want to throw deep on us a few times, go right ahead. There's no way you'll score more points than we do.

41 straight points later, La Tech was still pushing for more

The result? The Bulldogs responded by scoring 41 straight points against the Rice defense after that brief flirtation with disaster. In so doing, Louisiana Tech wound up scoring the most points it ever has against a conference opponent and tallied 677 total yards as the locals clinched the Conference USA West Division in a 76-31 rout over the defending C-USA Champion Owls.

On the Rice side of the tally, the 76 points was the third-highest total ever surrendered by Owl gridders in 101 years of football. That 76 points was laid on the Feathered Flock by a team which had lost to Northwestern State College of Natchitoches – at home, no less -- earlier in the season.

But the home team’s point total appeared to be grounded in a fundamental difference in philosophy compared to that exhibited by the gentlemanly approach of the Rice contingent.

After LaTech got up by, say, 49-24, the game was effectively over. Under the Old College rules, it was time to plow into the line and get the day’s work done with.

But Skip Holtz and his crew were thinking beyond that. Somewhere, somehow, some time in the future, that 76 points laid on the defending conference champions was going to pay dividends.

It might do so as early as the next week’s poll, when style points might result in a higher ranking.

It might just break the tie between Louisiana Tech and some other bowl entrant for a more desirable post-season position.

In any event, it would be a demonstration of superiority when the cakewalk of conference realignment once more reared its ugly head.

With that, the locals left the simply Owls in their jet contrail, despite giving up the initial score of the game.

Rice shut down the Techsters on their opening possession, earning a three-and-out as the ‘Dogs attempted to establish the short game.

The Owls then came out with a hurryup offense that had the home team rocked back on its heels for the moment. First play from scrimmage, Driphus Jackson hit Dennis Parks across the middle for 34 yards to the La Tech 49.

The rushing game earned two more first downs and set up the Owls deep in La Tech territory. On third and 10 at the La Tech 28, Driphus hit Zach Wright for 11 yards and a first down at the 17.

But on first and 10 from there, Darik Dillard plowed into the line for no gain, and then Driphus failed to connect on passing attempts in the general direction of Mario Hall and Dennis Parks.

James Hairston nailed his field-goal attempt from 35 yards out, giving the Owls a 3-0 lead just over five minutes deep into the game, but Rice’s failure in the red zone created a more-than-vague sense of misgiving.

Early Rice lead countered by three straight La Tech TD drives

The Bulldogs replied with three straight, long touchdown drives, each abetted by the deep pass play. In the first case, Cody Sokol hit Trent Taylor for 40 yards downfield on third and two at the La Tech 46. Two plays later, Kenneth Dixon bowled over from the one, and the Bulldogs had themselves a 7-3 lead that they would not relinquish.

Twice in a row the Owls responded with a three-and-out. And twice in a row Louisiana Tech hooked up with the deep-ball passing attack, Sokol connecting with Carlos Henderson for 72 yards and the score, and a couple minutes later with Paul Turner for 35 yards and another touchdown.

But the Owls began the second quarter resolute, after a Brandon Hamilton kickoff return of 41 yards to midfield. From there, Driphus hooked up with his favorite receivers, hitting Dennis Parks for 18, Mario Hull for nine, Jordan Taylor for 16, and then Hull for the last seven for the for the score.

After the Rice defense turned away Louisiana Tech on a missed 50 yard field-goal attempt by Kyle Fisher, the Owls blew right back down the field again.

On second and 10 at the Rice 49, Driphus hit Zach Wright 15 yards downfield in the deep flat. There, he appeared to be boxed in by La Tech cornerback Adarius Barnes, but evaded the tackle, leaving his defender grasping at the thin air, and sprinting in 51 yards untouched thereafter for the score.

That made it 21-17, La Tech, with 1:40 left in the half. It was time for the defense to rise up, but once again, a Rice special-teams bugaboo reared its head.

James Hairston’s kickoff was returned by Blake Martin 45 yards into Rice territory, giving the La Tech offense a short field to work with.  From there, after a key, 23-yard connection from Sokol to Turner on third and three, Kenneth Dixon pushed over from the one, and the Bulldogs went into the halftime locker room with a 28-17 lead after the Rice defense bulled its neck and forced yet one more failed La Tech field goal attempt.

The Owls were getting the ball at the start of the third quarter, however, and a statement drive was in order.

The Rice offense fashioned just that, as Driphus hit Jordan Taylor for 25 yards, and then connected with Mario Hull, wide open and in the clear, for the aforementioned 35-yard touchdown reception to bring it to within 28-24.

Now we had us a ballgame, the thought went among most in the visitors' section. But apres moi, le deluge.

Thereafter, La Tech scored every time it got its hands on the ball, and did so every which way but loose, including a 58-yard Jared Craft run, a 31-yard Kenneth Dixon dash, a Carlos Henderson scoop-and-score, another scoop-and-score from 19 yards out by Beau Fitte, and a pair of longish touchdown passes from Cody Sokol to Trent Taylor.

Down 69-24, the Owls did manage one touchdown drive, moving 75 yards in eight plays, culminating with a Jackson-to-Jordan Taylor 27-yard pass and run for the score.

But leading 69-31 with under five minutes left to play, Louisiana Tech was still tossing the ball downfield, albeit at the hands of second-string quarterback Taylor Burch. Burch himself scored his first career touchdown with 2:47 remaining as he ran in from 7 yards out for the final margin.

“We got beat; there’s no more to say,” Owl quarterback Driphus Jackson said afterwards. “They played four quarters in all phases, offense, defense and special teams."

“I feel like I came up short – not came up short, but let’s just say I didn’t get it done. I put more of that on me than anybody,” Driphus said, in an obvious excess of self-deprecation.

“But we’ve got a bowl game coming up,” he added. “We’re looking forward to playing in that, and bouncing back from this loss.”

Yes, let's do that.

--P.T.H.

HOUSTON (Nov. 26) – The Rice Owls look up to find themselves in a one-off battle for the Conference-USA Western Division pennant as they prepare to take on Louisiana Tech in an 11:00 a.m. kickoff Saturday in Ruston.

When in September the Owls went 0-for-3 in losing their home opener to Old Dominion, of all people, it didn’t look to anybody like they’d be in a position to defend last year’s crown going into the last regular-season game.

But thanks to that self-same Old Dominion’s overtime upset of the previously undefeated-in-league-play Techsters in Norfolk last week, here we go again. The betting parlors say Tech by 10, and the North Louisianans have the firepower to achieve that kind of bulge, for sure. But this isn’t a game that particularly lends itself to putting down wagers.

Both teams can be explosive; both teams rely heavily on a solid defense. LATech has won by more impressive margins than Rice – witness its 55-3 thumping of UTEP – but also has seen lower lows, such as a 30-27 downer to lower-division competitor Northwest Lousiana. (We’ll consider both teams’ last-minute, three-point, upset losses to ODU a wash.)

In the one-sided win over UTEP, the Bulldogs never had to bother to punt the ball. But then again there’s that one against their neighboring Demons from down the road in Natchitoches (good grief, doesn’t it seem like we’re playing a Lone Star Conference-like schedule these days?) LATech was about a 34-point fave in that game, but lost on a last-second field goal.

In that loss to Northwestern State, the Bulldogs suffered five turnovers, including three in the fourth quarter.  That'll do it to ya.

Both squads played a noticeably manlier non-conference schedule than did the rest of their league foes, and both squads predictably went 0-for-2 against major football factories. The Owls performed reasonably well in their road losses to Notre Dame and Texas A&M , but LATech’s losses to Auburn and Oklahoma were by virtually the same margins as were the Owls’ defeats against the Irish and the Aggies. Again, pretty much a wash.

The Techsters have an impressive one-two punch going for them on offense in the personages of quarterback Cody Sokol and running back Kenneth Dixon.

Sokol, whose name means “falcon” in guess what language, indeed has been flying high for the Bulldogs this season, with 25 touchdown passes thrown thus far, compared to only 10 all last season for the ‘Dogs.

He’s tossed at least 20 completions in seven out of 11 games thus far this season, and his passing yardage exceeded the 2,500 yard mark in last week’s loss at Old Dominion. His efficiency rating is high, having completed just a shade under 60 per cent of his throws with 11 interceptions.

Sokol’s offensive production plays second chair, however, to the heroics of running back Kenneth  Dixon, a 5-10, 214-pound junior who hails from the burg of Strong, Arkansas. Thus far in the season, the Strong man has picked up 943 yards rushing on 203 carries, with 15 rushing touchdowns.

A month ago, Southern Miss decided to stack the box in an effort to slow down Dixon’s rushing exploits, whereupon he promptly starting rolling out of the backfield to catch passes, snagging six of them for 124 yards on the day, including an 84-yard touchdown reception.

So if the LATech offense sounds like a perhaps slightly less potent, but nonetheless dangerous, version of A&M’s and Notre Dame’s – yup, that’s about it.

Defensively, the Bulldogs are right up there statistically with the Owls, having given up an average of 347.6 yards and 24.6 points per game, compared to Rice totals a smidgen higher in both categories.

The ‘Dogs defensive character centers around stopping the running game, which makes sense, given the fact that after last season’s 4-8 scorecard, including a 52-14 loss at Rice, by the way, Tech coach Skip Holtz brought in coaching guru Manny Diaz to coordinate the defensive effort.

Last Friday, the Owls held UTEP’s strong, if not vaunted, running attack to just 53 yards on the ground, right? By comparison, in LATech’s big win over UTEP, the Miners managed 81 rushing yards, against an average of over 225 on the season.

Southern Miss’ Golden Eagles fared even worse in their 31-20 loss to the ‘Dogs, as they were swarmed over by Tech defenders for a negative 31 yards rushing -- on their home turf, no less.

Among individual defensive standouts, Kentrell Brice, a 5-11 junior DB from Ruston, stands out for the Bulldogs, with 70 total tackles on the season, two picks, four fumbles forced and three quarterback sacks.

Close behind him is Vernon Butler, a big young man in the defensive line at 6-3, 317 pounds, who leads the team with 11.5 tackles for loss. Probably could’ve gotten six or seven of them by just standing there.

Defensive ends Houston Bates and Vontarrius Dora have four sacks apiece, which suggests something about Coach Diaz’ pass rushing tactics, while Xavier Woods, another 5-11 defensive back, has picked off five interceptions to place him among league leaders.

Against such defensive performers, the Owls are simply going to have to score some points, as in 35 or more, one would surmise, in order to take the cup. From time to time during the season, LATech has shown itself vulnerable to the downfield pass, so a repeat performance of last week’s efforts by Mario Hull plus the usual sterling exploits of Jordan Taylor would be most welcomed, if not absolutely necessary.

No, make that, “absolutely necessary.”

--P.T.H.