2014 La Tech Preview: What You Need To Know
Louisiana Tech CB Adairius Barnes
Louisiana Tech CB Adairius Barnes
Posted May 27, 2014

Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Louisiana Tech (Getty Images)

2014 Louisiana Tech Preview

What You Need To Know...

- 2014 Louisiana Tech Preview 
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer

What You Need To Know About The Offense: As expected, Tech fizzled on offense in the first year without offensive architect Sonny Dykes and prolific QB Colby Cameron. It's time to begin the slow climb back to productivity. Success in 2014 will hinge largely on the right arm of Ryan Higgins, who struggled when he had his turns to play last fall. But at least he won't be looking over his shoulder now that Scotty Young decided to retire. It should be Higgins' job, barring a challenge from Iowa transfer Cody Sokol. Regardless of who's trying to locate Paul Turner and Sterling Griffin in the passing game, the Bulldogs will remain a run-first attack. This offense may have 99 problems, but a back isn't one of them. Tech, in fact, has three runners, Kenneth Dixon, Tevin King and Blake Martin, capable of carrying the ground game when given a chance. The trio's biggest worry this year rests on an offensive line that's been hollowed out on the interior.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: Louisiana Tech improved dramatically in 2013, yielding 12 fewer points and nearly 100 fewer yards per game than in 2012. The Bulldogs want to build on that momentum now that Manny Diaz is the team's coordinator. Diaz comes on the heels of a failed stint at Texas, determined to restore his reputation with the help of his new team. Tech will be a tale of two extremes in 2014, as it seeks to create havoc in opposing backfields. On the one hand, the Bulldogs could be home to one of Conference USA's better defensive backfields, blanketing receivers with four returning starters, including talented corners Adairius Barnes and Le'Vander Liggins. On the other, the D-line must be revamped following the graduations of DE IK Enemkpali and both starting tackles. For Diaz to be a hit in his first season in Ruston, he'll need his new-look front wall, which will include Illinois transfer Houston Bates and possibly JUCO imports, to get the kind of push that forces opposing quarterbacks into forced throws.

Players You Need To Know

1. RB Kenneth Dixon, Sr.
For the past two seasons, Dixon has led the Bulldogs in rushing. Barring any health setbacks , he'll make it three in a row in 2014. Dixon ran 151 times for 917 yards and four scores a year ago. The decline in production from 2012 is attributable to knee problems and the overall decline of the offense. He missed the final two games with a left knee injury, and was limited in September because of a right knee injury. When healthy, though, Dixon is a 5-10, 220-pound downhill runner, with three career 200-yard games already on his resume.

2. CB Le'Vander Liggins, Sr.
Liggins has one season of eligibility left as a Bulldog. And one season to capture the attention of NFL scouts. He's an active all-around defender, attacking versus the run and the pass. A year ago, Liggins posted 45 tackles, one interception and 10 pass breakups, modest numbers since quarterbacks didn't want to challenge him. The fluid 5-10, 193-pound senior is smooth in his back-pedal, with the closing speed to recover on those rare blown assignments.

3. DE/OLB Houston Bates, Sr.
Midway through April, Bates announced he'd be transferring from Illinois to Louisiana Tech, where he'll spend his final season of eligibility closer to home. The native of Covington, La. enjoyed a breakout season with the Illini in 2013. Playing LEO, an end-outside linebacker hybrid, he collected 12 stops for loss and 3.5 sacks en route to being named honorable mention All-Big Ten. The 6-3, 250-pound Bates finished his Illini career having earned three letters and 16 starts. He'll play ‘Viper', another hybrid position, for a Bulldog D searching for pass rushers now that three starting linemen have graduated.

4. CB Adairius Barnes, Jr.
At the halfway point of his college career, Barnes is beginning to show signs he might someday play on Sundays. One of the gems of the 2012 recruiting class played like it last year, making quarterbacks second-guess targeting his side of the field. In an honorable mention All-Conference USA season, he made 49 tackles, two fumble recoveries and a Bulldog-high four interceptions. If Barnes continues to grow as a pass defender, the Tech secondary will be very salty this season.

5. LB Mitch Villemez, Sr.
Tech went out and signed Villemez out of Blinn (Tex.) to produce right away. The transfer didn't disappoint. He won the job at strongside, and then went on to finish third on the team with 69 tackles and first with three forced fumbles. Villemez plays with the passion and the intensity to inspire his teammates in the huddle. And with a full season of reps, and an offseason to get bigger and stronger, the 6-2, 225-pound will play an even bigger role for the Bulldogs.

6. RB Tevin King, Soph.
King will once again serve as the change-of-pace in the running game to the far more assertive Dixon. King returned from an ACL tear that ended his rookie season to rush for 539 yards and a score on 93 carries. However, he missed three games to injury, fueling the durability concerns of a 5-6, 158-pound absorbing punishment at this level. When King is healthy, he's like trying to track down a shifty jackrabbit in space, yet he's still in a battle for the backup job with junior Blake Martin.

7. SS Thomas McDonald, Sr.
McDonald delivered an auspicious debut in his debut out of Navarro (Tex.) Junior College. More than just an instant impact starter, he was second on the team with 70 stops, while adding three picks and five pass breakups. He had at least 10 tackles in three games last year. At 6-4 and 180 pounds, McDonald has the length and the long arms to redirect throws and win the battle for balls in the air. This summer, he'll be battling friendly fire, as 6-1, 211-pound sophomore Lloyd Grogan tries to take his job.

8. WR Paul Turner, Jr.
Tech had no chance of landing Turner three years ago, but it has him now. The former LSU Tiger is a Bulldog, having sat out last season per NCAA rules. He's the type of dynamic all-around athlete that Skip Holtz's squad desperately needs to help accelerate the offense. The 5-11, 194-pound Turner is a versatile playmaker, who can be used in myriad ways, including on special teams, in order to pick up chunk yards.

9. WR Sterling Griffin, Sr.
Griffin was granted an extra year of eligibility, one of the few bright spots of an otherwise troubled passing attack. Despite getting no help from his battery mate, he showed flashes in his first year removed from South Florida with 33 receptions for 357 yards and two touchdowns. The 6-0, 194-pound Griffin was especially helpful to his quarterbacks by fighting for balls in traffic and coming back on underthrown passes.

10. DE Vontarrius Dora, Jr.
The Bulldogs are going to need someone to pick up the pass rushing slack left by the graduation of IK Enemkpali. Dora is one of those linemen who'll be counted on to do more exploring of opposing backfields in 2014. Although he's been a starter for the past two seasons, he's yet to fully break through at Tech. The 6-4, 243-pound end in a linebacker's body notched 31 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in 10 games last year.

11. S Xavier Woods, Soph.
Woods laid down a solid rookie foundation on which the rest of his Bulldog career will be built. The 5-11, 194-pounder started much of the season at nickel to earn honorable mention All-Conference USA as a true freshman. Despite being a little lost at times on the field, he still managed to finish fourth on the team with 61 tackles, three of which were for minus yards. The staff is excited about Woods' future in Ruston.

- 2014 Louisiana Tech Preview