Monday Morning QB: Look back at Starkville

All eyes focused on the final score Saturday evening following Louisiana Tech’s 35-34 loss to Mississippi State in Starkville. The scoreboard is the ultimate report card.

However, as we head into Week 2 for head coach Skip Holtz and the Bulldogs who will host Southeastern Louisiana at Joe Aillet Stadium Saturday at 6 p.m., the LPJ takes a closer look inside the numbers.

Bottom line is for more than three quarters, Louisiana Tech looked like the better football team at Davis Wade Stadium Saturday lined up against the SEC Bulldogs.

Some of the positive takeaways:

  • Offensive Line play: a year after Tech struggled to open holes or keep quarterbacks vertical, this year’s version of the Tech OL looked much improved. State recorded only one sack in the game as Tech called roughly 40 pass plays (when you count QB runs out of the pockets). Now the OL didn’t open up many holes on rushing plays, especially late when Tech tried to pick up yards to shorten the potential GW field goal attempt.
  • Houston, We Have a QB: Austin Kendall was as good (or better) than advertised in his first game at Tech. The Oklahoma/West Virginia transfer made big plays through the air and on the ground in accounting for all three offensive TDs. His 72-yard strike to Bub Means on the last play of the first quarter was a huge momentum swing, and his 59-yard TD run early in the second quarter showed his ability to make plays with his legs. He also appeared to make decisive decisions in the pocket, especially when pulling the ball down and taking off for positive yardage.
  • Defense. Defense.: Yes, Mississippi State scored 35 points. But four of the five scoring drives by State covered 40, 33, 21 and 52 yards thanks to great field position due to turnovers or special teams mistakes by Tech. The Tech Defense recorded three sacks and forced four turnovers and had very few missed tackles. This unit could be special.

Some concerns from opening weekend:

  • Special teams consistency: Tech made plenty of solid special teams plays. Jacob Barnes split the upright on his first two field goal attempts. Cesar Bajaras recorded a 51-yard punt and pinned State inside their 20 twice. Take one bad punt away and Barajas averaged 41.7 yards per punt. But with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, the special teams unit struggled. Tech’s kick coverage gave up a momentum-changing 70-yard return that woke up the State sideline and MSU crowd. Barajas shanked a 20-yard punt with Tech leading 34-28, giving State the ball on its own 48 (it eventually scored the game-winning TD on the shortened field). And finally, the field goal unit saw Barnes’ potential game-winning attempt partially blocked on the final play.
  • Isaiah Graham Injury: Tech appeared to get through the game without many injuries, outside of the late-game injury to play-maker Isaiah Graham. The Bastrop native caught a critical 13-yard pass on the Tech sideline to convert a fourth-down-and-11 with less than a minute to play, but was injured on the play. He was carted off the field with what appeared to be a leg injury but no official word has been released yet for the Tech camp on the extent of it.

What Skip Holtz said post-game: “(Linebacker) Tyler Grubbs is such a competitor. … He just goes out and plays football. He is a hard-nosed, tough, physical football player. He doesn’t celebrate. He makes the tackle. He jumps up. He looks at the sideline and he looks for the next call. The guy is a dream to coach.”

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Photo:  Darrell James

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