Louisiana Tech -- thanks to record-smashing careers by quarterbacks Tim Rattay
and Luke McCown -- played a key role in establishing those pass-first
assumptions. Reigning champion Hawaii, with its run-and-gun offense, took that
style all the way to a BCS bowl.
But Tech coach Derek Dooley sees a new trend away from high-flying finesse
amongst the teams hoping to topple the Warriors. Many, Dooley’s ’Dawgs among
them, are focused more on building a powerful running game.
"One of the myths, and its been a great marketing tool for the WAC, has been
calling it a wide-open league," Dooley said. "People don’t realize how physical
this league is. If you look at the teams that have won the most consistently
over the past four or five years, they have been physical."
That trend toward gritty toughness begins with returning Louisiana Tech senior
Patrick Jackson, a second-team all-conference selection who gained 950 yards in
2007 -- despite hobbling around on a bum toe. The problem eventually required
"He did not show his best last season, because he had that toe injury," Dooley
Despite missing spring practices, Jackson says he's set to go: "This is the best
I've felt since I was in high school," he said.
Dooley, it's clear, is counting on it.
"We hope he will be 100 percent," the second-year coach said. "If he is, you
will see a really special player."
Dooley should know: He recruited, but then ultimately passed on, Jackson during
a previous assistant coaching stint at LSU.
"When I took the job (at Tech), I knew Patrick," Dooley said. "He kind of gets
on me because we didn’t take him. So now he says: ‘You are stuck with me.’ We
probably made a mistake (at LSU). He’s a very good runner, a fine young man. He
is going to graduate in the winter."
Between now and then, Tech will face a series of impressive running threats
across a rugged WAC slate. The conference returns seven of its Top 10 rushers,
and three of them ran for more than 1,000 yards a year ago.
Luke Lippincott, the league’s top rusher in 2007 with 1,420, is back with
Nevada. So is Idaho’s Deonte Jackson, who finished second in the WAC with 1,175
yards -- while averaging 4.9 yards a carry. Boise boasts a 1,000-yard rusher in
Ian Johnson, who also picked up 5 yards per try.
Tech is at Boise on Oct. 1, welcomes Idaho on Oct. 18, then plays host to Nevada
on Nov. 29.
Fresno State boasts perhaps the league's most impressive trio in Ryan Mathews
(866 yards in 2007), Lonyae Miller (609) and Anthony Harding (420). And San Jose State will certainly be welcoming back Yonus Davis, who received a medical
redshirt after missing 2007. SJSU averaged a paltry 84 yards rushing a night in
his absence, just as year after Davis dashed for 1,007 yards.
Tech faces Fresno in Ruston on Nov. 1, and travels to San Jose a week later.
"It seems like every team you play has a good runner," Dooley said. "It makes me
feel good, because it’s everything I believe in: You’ve got to run the ball and
play physical, and the teams that have been consistently winning in this league
are doing that."
That said, there’s still some ground to be made up. While the WAC had two teams
(Hawaii, of course, and also New Mexico State) in the Top 5 for passing offense,
there were only three in the Top 35 for rushing -- Nevada at No. 12, Fresno
State at 14 and Boise State at 33.
Tech, which reports on Sunday, will have its own questions in the passing game.
Dooley is considering a group of quarterbacks to replace the departed Zac Champion, including Georgia Tech transfer Taylor Bennett, unproven sophomore
Ross Jenkins and Auburn transfer Steve Ensminger.
Bennett, who started for former fired Yellow Jackets coach Chan Gailey, appears
to be the front runner.
That would be fine with Jackson, who started 11 games at running back last
season and played in all 12.
"He has shown great team leadership," Jackson said of Bennett. "He’s very
composed, very mature. He’s the type of guy who will be easy for the guys to
Should Tech’s new passer struggle in transition, the squad’s need for a stout
rushing attack becomes more pronounced. That certainly was the case in 2007,
when Dooley’s offense occasionally misfired.
"I thought our running game was good enough, if we had a passing game to
complement it -- but we did not," Dooley said. "When you are not able to throw
the ball, it effects you on third down, and we did not do very well on third
down -- and we did not make very many big plays. Consequently, we had some tough
Louisiana Tech finished 5-7 overall, and 4-4 in the WAC.