Justin Ellis almost gets one.(AP Photo/Dean Hare)
With Louisiana Tech’s offense struggling in the Kibbie Dome Saturday afternoon, Dudley snatched a pass from Idaho quarterback Brian Reader and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown to put the Bulldogs up 10-2 in the second quarter, and Tech never looked back.
The Bulldogs’ defense was the star on Saturday, limiting Idaho to just 50 rushing yards in a 24-11 victory over Idaho. Reader, Idaho’s senior signal-caller, finished the game with 246 passing yards but needed 47 attempts to rack up that yardage. He completed just 40 percent of his passes, averaged only 5.2 yards per attempt and was intercepted three times in the game.
The win improved Tech’s record to 2-4 on the season and 1-1 in Western Athletic Conference play. The Vandals, meanwhile, dropped to 1-5 on the year and 0-2 in the WAC.
Senior middle linebacker Adrien Cole led the Bulldogs’ defense with eight tackles, including four solo, three quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery. The Bulldogs sacked Reader twice – once each by junior defensive tackle Jon’al White and sophomore defensive end I.K. Enemkpali – while Dudley, Jamel Johnson and Quinn Giles each had interceptions.
Giles’ pick gave high a team-leading three on the season, while senior cornerback Terry Carter added three more pass breakups to give him a team-high nine on the year.
“I’m so proud of the way the defense played,” Tech head coach Sonny Dykes said. “I think they have played well at times this year and today was no exception. I thought we tackled well and did a good job of re-routing their receivers.”
Johnson’s pick with 8:20 left in the third quarter set up Tech’s second touchdown, a 6-yard pass from freshman quarterback Nick Isham to David Gru, capping a seven-play, 55-yard drive. Giles’ interception, which came with 10:48 left in the game, set the Bulldogs up deep in Idaho territory with a 24-5 lead and a chance to really put the game away. However, Tech’s offense wasn’t able to muster much and turned the ball over on downs four plays later.
Although the Bulldogs outgained Idaho offensively, they struggled all game to sustain and finish drives.
Junior kicker Matt Nelson put Tech up 3-0 in the second quarter with a 23-yard field goal. It capped a 16-play drive that covered 75 yards, but the drive stalled at Idaho’s 6-yard line. Tech’s two offensive touchdown drives averaged only 46.5 yards.
While Isham has been the big-name freshman on Tech’s offense all season – and he was an efficient 25 of 39 for 163 yards and a touchdown, with another rushing score, on Saturday – another Bulldog true freshman was the breakout offensive star against Idaho.
Hunter Lee, a walk-on from Flower Mound, Texas, had a workhorse-like effort, toting the ball 28 times for 134 yards. With senior backup running back Ray Holley out for the year and starting tailback Lennon Creer banged up and limited to 52 yards on 12 carries, the Bulldogs needed to look elsewhere for production out of the backfield.
Despite being a standout offensive star in Texas’ highest classification, where he accounted for more than 3,400 all-purpose yards and scored 38 touchdowns as a senior, the scholarship offers never came. So Lee walked on with the Bulldogs to play for Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, and he found an immediate home as an inside receiver in Tech’s spread offense. He caught five passes in five games while playing sparingly in the backfield before being thrust into the spotlight on Saturday.
“I can’t say enough about Hunter Lee,” Dykes said. “I knew he would be a good player for us. He’s a guy that walked on and has learned three positions for us. He did an exceptional job today running the ball. I’m not sure we win today without Hunter Lee.”
After Saturday’s win, it gets a little more difficult next week when the Bulldogs travel to face freshman QB Chuckie Keeton and the Utah State Aggies, who were a big winner over Wyoming on Saturday to improve to 2-3 on the season.
Tech’s offense must become more efficient, as the Bulldogs manage to convert just 3 of 16 third downs in the game and saw numerous drives stall.
Here are some interesting notes from Saturday’s game:
Lee truly was a workhorse on Saturday. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry, and his longest rush in the game was 18 yards, which came with just over a minute left in the game and helped seal the win for the Bulldogs
The special-teams star of the game was punter Ryan Allen. Because of the team’s offensive struggles, he was asked to punt 10 times. He boomed those punts for a career-high average of 48 yards, including a long of 61 yards. Six of his punts were downed inside Idaho’s 20-yard line, including four inside the 10.
The Bulldogs only had one play that went longer than 20 yards – a career-long 34-yard reception by junior receiver Andrew Guillot.
Junior receiver Scott Cathcart, a junior-college transfer, saw his first action of the season against Idaho. He did not record any stats in the game.