It is officially game week for Texas football, as the Longhorns prepare to open the season in Austin against Louisiana Tech. The Longhorns are 0-2 in season openers under Tom Herman, losing to Maryland in 2017 and 2018. Louisiana Tech will present a bit of a different challenge than the Terrapins. The Bulldogs are coming off an 8-5 season where they defeated Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl. Skip Holtz is entering his 8th season as head coach, and returns a large amount of upperclassmen as the Bulldogs look to contend for a Conference USA title. Let’s take a look at what Longhorn fans can expect to see from the Louisiana Tech offense.
Redshirt senior J’Mar Smith will enter his 3rd season as the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs. Smith stands 6’1, 218 pounds and has had steady protection throughout his career. In 2018, he ended the season with 15 passing touchdowns and 10 interceptions while throwing for 3,160 yards. He doesn’t pose much of a threat running the ball, but he is very comfortable in LA Tech’s system and has a good arm.
Where Smith gets himself into trouble, he begins forcing the ball into tight windows down the field. His accuracy is spotty on deep and intermediate throws, and he lacks touch on others. If Texas gets the Bulldogs into predictable passing downs, they are likely to get Smith to force some throws and turn it over.
The Bulldogs will return their top 3 running backs from a season ago. Redshirt senior Jaqwis Dancy led Louisiana Tech in carries last season with 124 for 667 yards and 9 touchdowns. Dancy will also split time with redshirt juniors Israel Tucker (95 carries for 377 yards in 2018) and Justin Henderson (28 carries for 113 yards in 2018). All 3 backs have similar styles, with Tucker being the smallest out of the 3 at 5’8, 195 pounds.
The Bulldogs did not run the ball well in 2018, ranking 109th in the country in rushing yards per game (132.4). It is certainly a favorable matchup for Texas, who is breaking in several new linebackers and defensive linemen. In 2018 when the Bulldogs traveled to Baton Rouge to face LSU, Dancy led all running backs with only 31 rushing yards despite Louisiana Tech being in the game for 3 and a half quarters.
If there is one area where Texas fans should be slightly concerned, it is a pair of inexperienced corners facing a talented group of receivers for the Bulldogs. The group is led by stud junior Adrian Hardy, who had 1,145 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2018. Hardy’s best performance came against LSU CB Greedy Williams, whom he torched for 181 yards and 2 TD’s on 10 catches. At 6’2, Hardy possesses the ability to go up and get the ball while also being a phenomenal route runner.
Aside from Hardy, TCU transfer Isaiah Graham will be another one to watch. Graham played sparingly while in Fort Worth, but was a 4-star recruit in the 2016 class and has made noise throughout fall camp.
Along the offensive line, the Bulldogs will be experienced in the middle while likely breaking in two new full-time starters at tackle. Seniors Ethan Reed and Drew Kirkpatrick will occupy the left and right guard spots, respectively, while junior Kody Russey will be entering his 3rd season as the starting center. The left and right tackle positions will be interesting to watch. Local beat writers have been reporting senior Gewhite Stallworth has been taking the majority of the first-team reps at left tackle. Stallworth dealt with injuries for much of the 2018 season and only appeared in 1 game. The 6’8, 320-pounder is massive, but has not played extensively for close to 2 years. Right tackle will likely be occupied by junior Willie Allen, who appeared in 12 games in 2018. Allen started his college career at LSU before transferring to Tyler Junior College and ending up at Louisiana Tech.
Louisiana Tech should not be mistaken for an early-season cupcake. The Bulldogs went bowling last year, and vegas has Texas favored by 20 points, meaning the Bulldogs are no pushover. Jalen Green, Kobe Boyce and Anthony Cook will get a good test against a team who can move the ball through the air. As mentioned previously, Louisiana Tech was in a 3-point game against LSU early in the 4th quarter a season ago, so do not expect the moment to be too big for them. The offense is littered with guys who have multiple years of starting experience, so it should be a good measuring stick for a Texas defense who will be looking for an identity before LSU comes to town in Week 2.
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