The return of college football also marks the return of our Friday opponent Q&A's. The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs and Oklahoma Sooners are just a day away from their first ever meeting so obviously there isn't a lot of familiarity with the team from Ruston, LA. Here to help us familiarize ourselves with the Bulldogs is Sean Isabella of The News Star. Isabella is the beat writer for LA Tech and was more than gracious to take the time to answer our questions about the team.
CCM: Skip Holtz is entering into his second season as the head coach of the Bulldogs. What are some of the key factors that need to be in place for the team to improve from 4-8 last season?
SI: Everything. The simple answer, however, is to improve the offense. The defense was suspect at times last season, but it should be improved under former Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. The Bulldogs have questions again at offensive line and at quarterback, but are deeper at wide receiver and return workhorse running back Kenneth Dixon. If the line can hold and the quarterback play is decent, Tech has a chance to get back to a bowl game for the first time since 2011. That's a lot of ifs.
CCM: Give us the low down on the quarterback situation where Ryan Higgins is the returning starter but is being pushed hard by Iowa transfer Cody Sokol.
SI: Sokol comes from Iowa where he never threw a pass after spending time as the third-string quarterback. He wasn't brought in to ride the pine, though, so I'd be shocked if he wasn't starting at Oklahoma. Expect a decision soon. While Sokol doesn't have much game experience, he adds leadership qualities the coaching staff likes. Turnovers haunted Tech's offense in 2013 and will be a big point of emphasis this season, especially against a top 5 team like Oklahoma.
This Q&A was obviously done before Sokol was named as the Bulldogs' starter on Monday. However, that just validates Isabella's point even more.
CCM: There's a whole stable of running backs in Ruston, led by Kenneth Dixon. How run heavy will the Bulldogs be on offense and how effective are they looking to be in 2014?
SI: Tech needs Dixon to return to his 2012 form as a freshman when he racked up 28 total touchdowns. Dixon was banged up last season and failed to record a 1,000-yard season, but he didn't have much help. Again, the offensive line is key, but the quarterback play might be more important. Opposing defenses stacked the box with regularity and dared Tech to beat them through the air.
CCM: Defensively there appears to seven starters back in 2014 on a squad that gave up 4.1 yards per carry and an average of 26 points per game. What do Manny Diaz have planned to improve the defense in 2014?
SI: The players seem to enjoy Diaz's system. They say it's simple and allows them to think more clearly and just go make plays. The best way to describe his approach is aggressive. He'll bring a wide variety of looks to try and throw off the offense. The secondary has a wealth of experience and returns three cornerbacks and three safeties that all recorded significant playing time in 2013. The back seven must eliminate big plays, something that plagued the Bulldogs last season.
CCM: Intangibles are always a factor in football game, especially in season openers. What are some things that the Oklahoma media and Sooner fanbase are perhaps not seeing in Louisiana Tech as this game approaches?
SI: A big theme leading up to fall camp has been Tech's togetherness. The players seem to be on the same page in Holtz's second year and it's noticeably through almost three weeks of camp. The chemistry is starting to come together and it seems they're having more fun than the lackluster 4-8 season they experienced.
CCM: Prediction Time - Tell us how you see this game shaking out and predict a final score for us.
SI: I've never been good at predications. I think the opening line of -38 is a bit much, but it's hard to say with so many unknowns from a Tech perspective. How will the offense look? Will the defense be that much improved or will it take time? That said, Oklahoma wins, it's just a matter of by how much. Let's go with Oklahoma 45, Tech 20
You can catch the latest updates on Louisiana Tech, leading up to Saturday's game, by following Sean Isabella on Twitter at @ST_IsabellaTNS