By Anthony Andro
The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs didn’t look much like a bowl team a month into the season as they were sitting with a 1-3 mark after a 38-34 loss to Middle Tennessee State.
But head coach Skip Holtz knew his Bulldogs had the talent to be a good team. He saw that when they opened the season with a one-point loss to a future bowl team in Arkansas. That was evident again when the Bulldogs dropped the game to a good Middle Tennessee State squad.
A 28-7 win over UTEP on Oct. 1 though proved to be just what the Bulldogs needed to get things going. It sparked a young team to seven-game winning streak and helped propel them into a spot in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl with an 8-5 record.
“We really gained some confidence, believe it or not, even in a loss because we really didn’t know what to expect,” said Holtz, whose team finally had its winning string snapped in its regular season finale. The hot streak earned the Bulldogs an appearance in the Conference USA Championship Game, a wild 58-44 setback to Western Kentucky.
“We gained a little bit of encouragement and steam through that, and I think the players and the assistant coaches deserve an awful lot of credit because nobody panicked or flinched. We just stayed the course, and we kept the battle cry of let’s focus on the process. Let’s keep getting better, everybody doing your job and having it come together as a team.”
It came together thanks in large part to an offense that puts up video game numbers. During a five-game stretch the Bulldogs scored at least 44 points in each outing. The offense did that with behind fifth-year senior quarterback Ryan Higgins.
Higgins, who totaled just 35 passing attempts during his sophomore and junior years, threw for more than 4,200 yards and 37 touchdowns. That’s the second-highest total in school history and even surprised Holtz some.
“He never flinched,” Holtz said. “He stayed the course. He kept working hard. I felt like, last year, had he been the starter last year, he was ready for that.”
Higgins wouldn’t have been able to put together his big year if he didn’t have two of the top receivers in the country. Both Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson made the cut to the final 10 for the Biletnikoff Award and for good reason. Taylor set a C-USA single-season reception record with 115, and Henderson had three 200-yard receiving games and totaled more than 2,200 all-purpose yards.
Now because of the offense, which ranked third the country in passing yards, fifth in scoring offense and eighth in total offense, the Bulldogs find themselves in a bowl game for a third straight year.
Just like everyone expected when they were 1-3.
Anthony Andro has covered sports in the Metroplex for the last 16 years, including the Texas Rangers for the last 10 seasons.