Bulldogs and Warriors Ready for WAC Opener

Bulldogs and Warriors Ready for WAC Opener

For the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (1-3), the best part of Saturday's heartbreaking 13-12 home loss to Southern Miss was the fact that it put to an end an agonizing non-conference schedule that has them taking a three-game losing streak into next week's conference opener at Hawaii.

If the frustration of not yet seeing the high-powered Sonny Dykes offense take flight yet this season hasn't been enough for fans to start jumping ship, the agonizing way it blew Saturday's game to the Golden Eagles (3-1) just might be the tipping point.

Louisiana Tech had three fourth-quarter turnovers in a game it lost by one point. For a team that entered the game having been outscored 51-9 in the second half this season, it appeared as though the squad was finally going to figure out how to close a game.

A touchdown followed by a safety in the fourth quarter cut the Southern Miss lead to 13-12 and the momentum was clearly on the side of the struggling Bulldogs.

Then came disaster.

The Bulldogs' next three drives ended with a fumble (in Southern Miss territory), a punt (near midfield) and an interception (at midfield).

"You go down one point with excellent field position and then we turned the ball over," Dykes said of the fourth-quarter debacle. "That is extremely discouraging. Our turnovers have come at incredibly inopportune times this season."

While the Bulldogs had every opportunity to pull off the victory, the final stat sheet shows they probably shouldn't have been in the game at all.

Louisiana Tech was outgained by Southern Miss 425-309, lost the turnover battle 4-1 and was edged in time of possession 38:25-21:35. Still, they had a chance to beat an FBS program for the first time under Dykes, which would have been a huge stepping stone heading into WAC play.

Instead, they fumbled away the opportunity.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Dykes still hasn't settled on a quarterback.

The somewhat convoluted timeline of the quarterback carousel in Dykes' first season reads like this: Senior QB Steven Ensminger named starter after first week of August camp, but has yet to take a snap this season and now plays some wide receiver; incumbent starting QB Ross Jenkins starts season opener vs. Grambling State, but splits time with backup QB Colby Cameron and hasn't seen the field since the opener; Cameron, a sophomore, starts games No. 2, 3 and 4, but is benched after two series Saturday against Southern Miss after going 0-for-4 with an interception; junior college transfer Tarik Hakmi, who looked good in limited duty in week 2, then didn't play a down in week 3, took over after two series Saturday against Southern Miss and finished the game with 262 passing yards, a touchdown and a pair of interceptions.

"It wasn't really a surprise," Hakmi said of entering the game in the first quarter and playing the rest of the way Saturday. "You have to go into every game mentally prepared for if your number ever gets called and you have to expect to play."

If you're a quarterback on Dykes' roster, it seems your number could be called in any given week.

--Louisiana Tech doesn't seem to know how to close out games. While Saturday showed the Bulldogs were only outscored 10-9 in the second half, the team simply has to figure out a way to play much better after the break. The Bulldogs have outscored teams 53-43 in the first half this season and have been outscored 61-18 in the third and fourth quarters.

"We haven't been a very good second-half football team this season," Dykes said after Saturday's loss to Southern Miss.

--Saturday's loss to Southern Miss marks the first time the team has lost back-to-back home games at Joe Aillet Stadium since 2006.

GAME BALL GOES TO: LB Jay Dudley -- The junior linebacker had a career-high 13 tackles, including anther career best with nine solo stops. Dudley, who also pitched in on punt coverage where he had one of his 13 tackles, was a big reason why the Southern Miss offense wasn't able to capitalize with any points off any one of Louisiana Tech's four turnovers, three of which came in the fourth quarter.

KEEP AN EYE ON: QB Tarik Hakmi -- The junior college transfer from Foothill Community College in California appears to be the quarterback of the future for Louisiana Tech. Of course that doesn't mean much, but at least as the team heads into its WAC opener next week vs. Hawaii, Hakmi will likely be the man after throwing for 262 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions Saturday against Southern Miss. He also led the team in rushing with 12 carries and 26 yards.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We don't want to lose to anyone, but I like what I am starting to see from this football team." -- Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Dykes after a 13-12 loss to Southern Miss.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL LOOKING GOOD: The Louisiana Tech defense did a far better job Saturday keeping the Southern Miss offense off the scoreboard than the Big 12's Kansas Jayhawks did on Sept. 18 in a 31-16 Southern Miss win. Louisiana Tech got a career-high 13 tackles from LB Jay Dudley and, despite the offense continually putting the Bulldogs' defense in a bad position with four turnovers, La. Tech didn't allow a single point after those four turnovers. Despite not preparing as the starter yet this season, junior college transfer QB Tarik Hakmi moved the ball well Saturday after taking over under center after just two series. Hakmi completed 22 of 35 passes for 262 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Richie Casey.

STILL NEEDS WORK: The Bulldogs are turning the ball over far too much. After four games, La. Tech has 12 giveaways to just eight takeaways, giving them a minus-4 turnover margin for the season. Three interceptions and just one touchdown pass in Saturday's game vs. Southern Miss isn't the type of passing efficiency head coach Sonny Dykes' offenses are used to. The fact that the Bulldogs can't seem to run the ball doesn't help matters. The Bulldogs' leading rusher Saturday was QB Tarik Hakmi, who didn't even start the game. In Dykes' offense, things aren't running smoothly when the QB has 12 carries for 26 yards and the rest of the team has 13 carries for 21 yards.

ROSTER REPORT: --QB Colby Cameron was yanked from Saturday's game against Southern Miss after just two series. He clearly wasn't on his game, going 0-for-4 with an interception.

After starting three straight games, it is unlikely he'll start this week's WAC opener against Hawaii as the team, at least for now, appears ready to give junior college transfer QB Tarik Hakmi a shot at holding down the job.

--After suffering a concussion Sept. 11 vs. Texas A&M and sitting out the Sept. 18 game vs. Navy, senior WR/Return specialist Phillip Livas was back in action Saturday against Southern Miss.

Livas had a team-high five receptions and 47 yards. Combined with his five rushing yards and 40 kick return yards, Livas led the team in all-purpose yards with 92.

Hawaii Report

Hawaii evened its record at 2-2 with a 66-7 romp against Charleston Southern on Saturday. The Warriors' early-season schedule has gone about as one would expect -- wins over Army and Charleston Southern and losses to USC and Colorado.

They move into Western Athletic Conference play this week against Louisiana Tech. Charleston Southern coach Jay Mills, whose team lost 66-10 in 2007 in Honolulu, said this year's Warriors team compares favorably with the 2007 team that played in the Sugar Bowl. Quarterback Bryant Moniz threw six first-half touchdown passes for the Warriors.

"I thought (Hawaii) executed much better on offense in the first half, obviously, in this game than in 2007," Mills said. "I saw a team that is very similar to the team we saw in 2007. I really believe this team has a chance to be very successful as they go into conference play. And we thought that before we came here."

NOTES, QUOTES --Hawaii scored 49 first-half points, its most since scoring 52 against Nevada in 2002.

--Hawaii has faced Charleston Southern twice. The Warriors scored 66 points in both games -- winning 66-10 and 66-7.

--All-WAC wide receiver Greg Salas scored his first two touchdowns of the season, both in the first half.

--Hawaii used six quarterbacks. Freshman David Graves hit Dustin Blount for a 41-yard TD on the first pass of his career in the fourth quarter. GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Bryant Moniz -- He tied a school record with six first-half touchdown passes. He was 19 of 27 for a career-high 395 yards with two interceptions.

KEEP AN EYE ON: LB Corey Paredes -- He entered the game ranked second in the nation in tackles at 13 per game. He one-upped himself with 14 tackles.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Its contagious, it's like a personality, like an attacking, swarming defense that gang tackles and makes big plays with emotion. That's what we want to be at and that's what we preached all week. We didn't care who we played, we had to get to that point and we haven't been (that way) the last year and three games. Today we got back to the style of defensive football that we want to play." -- Hawaii coach Greg McMackin.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL LOOKING GOOD: The Warriors' defense stepped up and turned in an outstanding performance against Charleston Southern, but whether the group can carry that momentum into WAC play remains to be seen. Hawaii held Charleston Southern to 227 yards and grabbed four turnovers.

STILL NEEDS WORK: The Warriors were a little sloppy on offense despite passing for 490 yards and generating 583 total yards. They committed four turnovers, including a pair of interceptions by starting quarterback Bryant Moniz.

ROSTER REPORT: --C Sila Lefiti entered the game in the first quarter. He missed the first three games with an injury. He was the projected starter before the injury.

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