Thursday, June 04, 2009

2009 Cheese Puff Previews: Louisiana Tech

Back by popular demand blogger fiat, it's your No. 1 most favorite tolerated series of near-substanceless, air-injected preview puffery. As always, it should in no way be mistaken for actual preseason football nutrition, but hopefully you find the series unaccountably tasty and even habit-forming. And so it is unofficially sponsored by:

I swear on everything holy I'm going to make it past, say, Week 8 with the Cheese Puff Previews this year. Meaning I should probably go ahead and get started. Meaning it's time to look at the Lousiana Tech Bulldogs, Auburn's Week 1 opponent this fall and proud member of the Western Athletic Conference. Here's to hoping their football team proves to be as powerful as their conference affiliation is geographically sound.

Last year It doesn't get any more "team on the rise" than Tech, who in their two seasons under Derek "Son of Vince" Dooley have gone from 3-10, 1-7 WAC in Jack Bicknell's final season to 5-7, 4-4 in 2007 and 8-5, 5-3 last year. Amongst those eight wins were a home upset of Mississippi St. (in which their point total was some seven times larger than "3") and their first bowl victory since before your humble Auburn blogger was born. With some 16 starters returning, Dooley looks poised to return Tech to the vicinity of their late-'90s/early-'00s glory under Gary Crowton and Bicknell.

Damn it.

Notable previous meeting: Located squarely between Shreveport and Monroe in rural northern Louisiana, Ruston may not boast the famed cultural milieu of New Orleans or the Lousiana bayou, but like nearly any town you can find within the borders of the Pelican State it has always had its fair share of local color and memorable characters.

One of the most famous of these characters was Madame Omerta, a self-described "voodoo gypsy priestess" who retreated to Ruston from New Orleans in the early 1970s after claiming to have seen visions of the Big Easy "drowned beneath a tidal wave such as only God himself could still." She set up shop as a fortune teller and did good business as students from Tech and nearby Grambling frequently sought out her outlandish and ridiculous, optimistic predictions--she was fond of telling customers that a disliked ex-boyfriend or girlfriend would soon be trampled to death by a warthog--as one of their few reliable forms of entertainment in the two sleepy college towns. Eventually the Ruston Leader asked her to join the weekly staff college football pick-'em, and although Omerta never finished near the top of the paper's end-of-season standings, she always participated good-naturedly and developed an undeserved reputation for accuracy after predicting the Bulldogs' startling 24-14 upset of Louisville in the 1977 Independence Bowl.

As the years progressed, the novelty of Omerta's football predictions wore off as she began predicting victory for both Tech and Grambling every single week--even in the early stages of Tech's difficult transition to I-A football under Carl Torbush--in what was universally understood as a show of gratitude to the two institutions that had made her living for her. At the end of Tech's 4-7 1988 season, Daily sports reporter Charlie Devereaux paid her a visit to inform her that the paper would no longer be asking her to take part in the contest. She told Devereaux she understood the decision and--she confided--that the spirits had been refusing to impart the football results she had been asking for even since "the demon Reagan took office." As a gesture of thanks and thinking it might make a nice "farewell" item for his notebook column, Devereaux asked Omerta if she had any last predictions for the future of Tech football. She agreed, and he recorded what happened next for the 1996 book Ball on the Bayou: Weird True Stories of Louisiana Football:
"She put her palms face up on the table, closed her eyes, and started in with the same spirit gibberish she'd been using when I went to see her my senior year at Tech. I was just hoping she'd make it quick when all of a sudden her eyes shoot open and roll all the way back into her head. Her fingers and hands were usually relaxed and curled a bit, but now they shot straight out, stiff as a board. She started talking, and it was in a voice I'd never heard her use before, deeper than deep, like someone else was inside her talking. She said, and I'll remember this 'til the very day I die, "Hear me: bulldog from bulldog, son from the father, captain from captain, so shall blue eat the blue, so shall the dog bring down a tiger, so shall the humble topple the tower of the proud." Then just like that her eyes go back to normal, her hands go back to normal, and she starts looking around the room like she forgot where she was. Weirdest damn thing I ever saw, and I live in Louisiana."
With Auburn on the schedule in 1989 and team captain Reggie Castille at quarterback, the son of former Tech great (and 1965 team captain) Darren Castille, Devereaux became convinced he had heard a legitimate prophecy about the outcome of that year's meeting between the Tigers and Bulldogs. He wrote a column to that effect (one which reportedly made it into a highly-amused Auburn locker room) and wagered heavily on a Tech upset. Unfortunately for him--and Omerta, whose local reputation for football divination was finally destroyed--Auburn cruised to a 38-23 victory.

Although it made him the butt of several years' worth of jokes in Ruston, Devereaux said he never regretted his decision--particularly after the very next season, the fifth-ranked Tigers only escaped the Bulldogs on a 30-yard field goal by Jim Von Wyl with three seconds left to give Auburn a 16-14 win. "Walking out of that crazy lady's house, I knew in my bones whatever she'd just said was going to happen," Devereaux would go on to say. "I still think Tech's going to beat Auburn one of these years. Just hasn't happened yet."

Omerta would not live to see if he was right; she passed away in 1999 after choking on a piece of fried catfish.

Actual series history: Auburn is 10-0-1 all-time against the Bulldogs, with the only blemish a 13-13 tie in 1948. But those 10 wins haven't always come easy: in addition to the 1990 meeting described (accurately) above, you may recall that Auburn won the 2002 matchup 48-41 in overtime after Damon Duval missed a potential third straight game-winner on the final play of regulation. Most of the other eight wins have come much easier, but there's precedent for a tight game come Sept. 5.

Causes for Alarm

1. Before you assume that Auburn will have a decisive advantage up front because we have a former Auburn great coaching our defensive line, check out who's coaching the Tech defensive line:

Jimmy Brumbaugh! Knowing how poorly Auburn has fared in recent games in which the opponent's big uglies are coached by a former Auburn player--see Searels, Stacy, and Rocker, Tracy, back when he was on the opposite sideline--and you can see why I think this is a bad omen.

2. Holy crap, this is awesome:
In the autumn of 1899, five Tech students returned home from school. They came upon an old, hungry bulldog sitting under a tree. The boys fed the dog with what food they had and continued their journey. When they finally reached their destination, however, they found that the dog had followed them. Being sensitive young men, they sought permission for the dog to stay the night, and the landlord agreed - if the animal remained in the kitchen. That night the house caught fire. Their overnight guest was the first to awaken. The dog ran from room to room, rousing everyone in the building. Then, after all the other occupants had made their way to safety, one boy remained inside. The bulldog re-entered the smoke-filled house in an apparent attempt to rescue him, not realizing the boy had escaped in a different direction. After the fire was extinguished and smoke had finally cleared, the boys went inside to see if the dog had indeed made it out to safety. But when they entered, they found the lifeless bulldog lying in an unburned corner of one room. He had died from the smoke and the heat. Naturally, the young men were shaken due to the death of their new friend. So they picked him up and carried him to the place they had found him the previous day. They then dug a grave and wrapped him in two jackets - one red and the other blue. When the boys returned to school and related their story, the whole campus mourned the death of the homeless dog. The dog with no name had found a place in the hearts of Tech students. Two years later, Tech organized a football team and decided the team needed not only school colors, but a mascot. A unanimous decision was reached as the bulldog, the first hero of Tech, was given the honor.
If you ever want to know why Tech enjoyed such a long and fruitful tradition at the lower levels of college football, this is why. Dead dog stories are always touching enough: this is a heroic dead dog story, and they've made it the basis for their nickname, colors, and mascot! Major, major karma points.

Causes for Confidence

1. Just because Tech buried a hero dog a century ago in some shade of red and blue doesn't mean they have to pick such an eye-searing shade of red and blue, does it? What, exactly, was wrong with this? And that's not even getting into the fact they've toyed with all-red unis of late. And lest you think all of this is pointless dithering, remember that no SEC team has uglier uniforms than Florida. Auburn knows, and Auburn punishes.

2. Auburn interviewed Derek Dooley for its vacant football head coaching position and turned him down. Surely, surely, the universe will not inflict upon our fine and proud University the indignity of the head coach it hired being defeated in his debut the man who the University passed over for him. Surely.

Actual alleged analysis: I'll just come right out and say it: this game gives the screaming willies all over. I can't even think about it for too long without feeling like I ought to post

Oops. I didn't actually want to do that. Whew. It's just that when it comes to a well-coached, exceedingly experienced team--did I mention the 16 returning starters?--walking into J-Hare for Chizik's debut and the first test drive of the Spread Eagle 2.0, and the intense pressure that's going to be on an Auburn team that has some areas where it's just not all that talented ... well, is it so wrong to

Sorry. I just ... I needed that.

Anyway: what's really scary looking over Acid's Tech preview is that the Bulldogs return every starter on both lines. He feels Auburn can stay even up front, but until we see Blanc and Ricks hold their own against a Rimington Watch List center with two years' worth of starting experience under his belt, I'm not sure. Ditto Andrew McCain taking on Tech's veteran, talented, Brumbaugh-coached d-line members.

Last year when Franklin's offense stalled out of the gate, it was the offensive line who had enough MAUL in them to take over and carry the day; I don't think Auburn has enough of an advantage here for that to happen again if history repeats itself at quarterback and general offensive coherence. Likewise, the defense made up for the offensive shortcomings by overwhelming the UL-Monroe front--Tech is too good and has too many weapons (like RB Daniel Porter and WR Phillip Livas) for that to happen. And if the game is tight entering the fourth quarter, will the new staff be able to keep everyone loose and focused with the game on the line?

So, yeah, I'm troubled. But for all of that, Auburn hasn't lost to a mid-major team since Brett Favre U. in 1991. Auburn is at home. Malzahn is not Franklin and the quarterback will not be yanked in and out at the end of every series. For all of their late-season offensive explosions, the Bulldogs never did have any great success against a defense with a pulse last year: even after their midseason QB change and playing Northern Illinois at a de facto home, they scored all of 17 points in their bowl victory. Even if the defensive line struggles at times, the secondary should be the strongest non-running back unit on the team and Stevens/Bynes/Freeman should be an improvement on the linebacking we saw finish up last season.

In the end, I think it'll be enough to turn the Bulldogs away. But no way it's going to come easy. Not when


Acid Reign said...

.....Here Jerry DEFINITELY shows that writing a quality opponent preview is more than dialing up the school's football website, and their CBS Sportsline team page!

.....Good stuff!

Philip Arnold said...

Well, at least their mascot story makes more "sense" than ours does...I think...

Sammy34 said...

Which mascot story? I am aware of at least three. The most spectacular seems pretty far-fetched but the other two seem plausible. Hell, I guess War Eagle had to come from somewhere.

David said...

"Auburn knows, and Auburn punishes."

Get Bartlett's on the phone, that's classic.

Anonymous said...

Great preview.....looking forward to playing you guys again. GO TECH!

Anonymous said...

Looks like a good game! Great Preview! GO Tech!