Traditionally, when you think Louisiana Tech and you think of their current conference, the WAC, you think of one thing. Offense. Your mind is immediately drawn to the recent BCS appearances by offensive-friendly Hawaii and Boise State, one of which went well and one of which, well, yeah. You think of Terry Bradshaw, the head of the LaTech football program even now, nearly 40 years since he last played a game for the Bulldogs (they were the first 1-A Bulldogs, apparently, thanks to commenter Ken_Horndawgs). For a more recent example, you are reminded of the non-affiliated Bulldog teams of the late 90's, where future NFLers Tim Rattay and Troy Edwards ravaged opponents, including more than 400 against Nebraska in 1998 (HT: commenter Holla), the season that saw him win the Biltenkoff Award as the Best WR in all the land and skyrocketed him to the first round of the NFL Draft, the 13th overall pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers. His pro career wasn't as promising as it seemed, and after bouncing around from team-to-team he is now with the Grand Rapids Rampage of the Arena Football League. As for his battery mate of sorts, QB Tim Rattay, Rattay has had an average NFL career, bouncing around mostly as a backup, but seeing more than a handful of starts in San Fransisco a copule of years ago.
However, tradition-be-damned, last year's offense wasn't so hot. I mean sure, it wasn't FIU-horrid, but it wasn't the WAC-type offense we are used to seeing. They were a lower-tier offense in the country, although their rushing attack was (barely) in the top-half of programs in the country, 56th. Their passing attack; not so much, as the Bulldogs ranked only 88th. Combine it all together, and you have the 86th best offense in the country. A decent offense, one that deserves an inkling of respect, but certainly not a Rattay-Edwards late 90's offense. With all of that said, here is how the LaTech offense should look when they waltz their way into Memorial Stadium on September 6th, ready to take on the should-be 1-0 Kansas Jayhawks.
Quarterbacks :: Zac Champion started the two previous years, leading the aforementioned 'lower-tier' offense. Now, while the offense wasn't tremendous as a unit, Champion's statistics paint him as a solid QB; certainly not the primary reason for the below-average O. In his two years of legit playing time (his freshman and sophomore seasons he threw a combined 8 passes), he completed 55% of his passes and posted a TD:INT ratio of 27:28. The completion % isn't tremendous, and the TD:INT ratio is pretty averageish, but it is better than I expected looking at the team-wide passing statistics. As far as his replacement goes, there is an incredibly interesting situation developing. Taylor Bennett, who had played his entire career prior to this offseason with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and started the entire 2007 season, was granted a waiver by the NCAA to use his final year of eligibility in Ruston and have a shot at quarterbacking the Bulldogs. He isn't all that fleet-of-foot, and wouldn't have fit in well with the regime change in Atlanta, with option-loving Paul Johnson coming in to run the Georgia Tech program. However, he is being forced to learn a mostly-new offense from the one he ran at Georgia Tech, and he might not be ready in time to be the starter when they face the Jayhawks. If he isn't ready, although he likely will be, Ross Jenkins and Auburn transfer Steve Ensminger, will likely fight it out for the right to lead the Bulldogs in 2008. Both Jenkins and Ensminger are sohpomores, making it almost a certainty that at least one, if not both, will see major action next season after Bennett runs out of eligibility.
When all is said and done, Bennett will likely be the starter. He was always promoted as a 'cerebral' and 'thinking' QB while under Chan Gailey at GaTech, and you would have to think that his intelligence would certainly show up now, when he needs it most.
Running Back :: While there is a decent amount of controversey surrounding the QB position, there is no question who the QB will be handing the ball off to. Senior Patrick Jackson was the focal point of Tech's offense last season, as he ran for 950 yards, averaging 4.6 yards a carry. He was good enough to be second team All-WAC last season, and this is in a conference with future potential NFLer Ian Johnson. Jackson will, again, be the key to the Bulldogs' offense, and has the ability to turn some serious heads when he makes a trip to Lawrence. Of course, one of the better LBer corps in America will be waiting for him, so I am excited for that matchup already. Strength-on-strength. Backing Jackson up, and likely his replacement next season, is junior Daniel Porter, who averaged 6 yards a carry last season. Porter's moment in the sun was a two-week strech in late October, when he carried the ball a combined 35 times for 260 yards against Boise State and Utah State. Porter, just like the 5'10" Jackson, is a little on the short side, but is very quick (just like Jackson) and fits the system they have over at LaTech.
Wide Receiver :: At the WR position, they have no clear-cut #1 target, but are pretty deep as a unit. The de facto #1, if there is one, is most likely Phillip Livas, a sophomore who led the team in receiving last season. Philip Beck starts on the other side, making the starting duo for the Bulldogs Phillip x 2. Crazy stuff. Shane Womack is the veteran, savvy, senior leader of the corps, who saw his production skyrocket from only 5 combined catches as a freshman and sophomore to a 19-catch season last year as a junior. If you are looking for a sleeper on the LaTech offense, at least according to The News-Star, is Josh Wheeler, who was injured for much of last season. In any case, all of Tech's primary targets are returning, granting whoever ends up starting at QB a plethora of options to consider.
Tight End :: Included in the plethora of receiving options is the two-headed TE monster of senior Anthony Harrison and junior Dustin Mitchell. Harrison caught more passes (33 to 29) for more yards (293 to 198) last season, and is the #1 TE, by all indications. However, both see plenty of action, and both figure to be big-time factors in the game in Lawrence. Again, our LB strength should factor in to this matchup, hopefully favoring us. Still, the last time we played a team with two legit TEs (Mizzou), they pretty much had their way for stretches. Now, Taylor Bennett (or whoever the QB is) ain't Chase Daniel, and they don't have a playmaker like Jeremy Maclin, but still. Also, again referring to the article from the News-Star, they have another TE named Dennis Morris, a junior, who is supposedly a tremendous athlete. Of course, even while they tab him the 'Breakout Player' of the offense, they mention his case of the dropsies, and who knows whether the drops or athletic ability will win out in his quest for some PT.
Offensive Line :: To go along with the tremendous amount of weapons returning, the Bulldogs are also returning three of their starting offensive linemen, all three of which are interior linemen. Sound familiar? They are entering the exact same situation that we are currently, returning all three G/C while watching the two bookends, the tackles, depart. However, one of last year's starting guards (Rob McGill) saw plenty of action at tackle in the Spring Game, and will likely move from his position at LG to one of the tackle spots. C Lon Roberts is also returning, as is RG Jared Miles. McGill, Roberts and Miles are all sophomores, and all figure to be much-improved with a year of starting experience under their belt. The two departing starters, Ryan Considine and Tyler Miller, figure to be replaced, in some function, by G David Accardo and T Cudahy Harmon, a future-LT type just based off his size: 6'8" 320. That leads me to believe that, combining Harmon's size-driven potential and the fact he started against Cal last season, Cudahy will be the starting LT next season, with McGill manning the RG position. Roberts and Miles will likely stick at the positions they manned last season, leaving Accardo to be the likely replacement at LG for McGill.
All in all, the LaTech offense figures to be much better than last season, especially if Taylor Bennett plays from the get-go and performs better than expected. They are returning essentially every single skill-position player from last season, including All-WAC-type RB Patrick Jackson, and are returning three full-time starters from last season, and the two likely replacements both started at least one game last season. If their offense can improve their play under the improvement at the QB position, they will likely be bowling at the end of the season, although a drop-off in defense would ruin any momentum gained on the offensive end.
Defensive preview to come in the next couple of hours...