Louisiana Tech was originally scheduled to face Texas A&M in Shreveport, La., on the first Thursday night of the season, but Hurricane Isaac forced the game's postponement to this Saturday (9:15 p.m. ET, ESPNU). At that time, the main consequence seemed to be the delay of coach Kevin Sumlin's A&M debut by nine days.
Six weeks later, however, the game carries serious BCS implications -- for Louisiana Tech.
This week, coach Sonny Dykes' team entered the AP Poll for the first time since 1999. The 5-0 Bulldogs are averaging 53.2 points per game, having scored at least 50 points in four of their five contests. They've already beaten two AQ-conference foes: the Big Ten's Illinois and the ACC's Virginia. Last year, when Louisiana Tech won its last seven regular season games to capture its first WAC championship in a decade and reach the Poinsettia Bowl (where it lost 31-24 to No. 18 TCU), it clobbered SEC foe Ole Miss, 27-7.
"They are not going to be intimidated by us one bit and they shouldn't be," Sumlin said of the No. 23 Bulldogs. "I think they are probably ranked a bit low. ... This is a chance for them to make a statement on national TV so we are going to get their best shot."
The Aggies (4-1) also entered the Top 25 this week, one spot above Louisiana Tech, and they present a much stiffer challenge than the Bulldogs' opponents to date. Redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel has shined in Sumlin's hurry-up offense, rushing for 495 yards while completing 69.3 percent of his passes for 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions. A&M ranks eighth nationally in scoring offense (44.6 points per game), putting it just five spots behind Louisiana Tech.
The stakes are obvious. If the Bulldogs can pull the upset (they're currently eight-point underdogs), they'll become prime contenders to crash the BCS, a previously unimaginable goal for a program in remote Ruston, La. Not that Dykes, their third-year coach, is ready to go there. "I do not even know how to spell 'BCS,'" he told reporters this week. "That is like miles and miles away from our thoughts."
One interesting dynamic for Saturday's matchup is that both programs' offenses are descendants of the Air Raid family tree. Dykes first worked with Mike Leach under Hal Mumme at Kentucky in the late '90s, reuniting with him after Leach became Texas Tech's head coach in 2000. Kliff Kingsbury, the Red Raiders' quarterback at the time, is now Texas A&M's offensive coordinator. He came over with Sumlin from Houston, where another Leach protégé, Dana Holgorsen, originally installed the offense in 2008.
Dykes was my guest this week on The Mandel Initiative podcast, where he discussed the Air Raid revolution, Louisiana Tech's offensive success and the keys to Saturday's game. Below is a brief excerpt from the interview. To hear the full podcast, use the player on the right or subscribe on iTunes.
Stewart Mandel: Coach Dykes, your team entered the rankings this week, Texas A&M did as well, so it kind of adds an extra bit of buzz to this game. What's it like on campus given the start you guys have had to the season and the anticipation for this game?
Sonny Dykes: Well, I think people are excited around here, they've seen the program grow and are starting to get more and more behind it. There's definitely a buzz in the air. I know our players are excited about this opportunity. It's going to be a challenge for us, but I think it's something everybody's looking forward to.
SM: If you had your druthers, would you rather have played this game when it was originally scheduled? Or considering they were bringing in a new coaching staff, is it better to have now gotten a chance to see them on tape?
SD: Well, it kind of goes both ways. There was a lot of unknown playing them in Game 1, really probably on both coaching staffs' parts. Obviously we didn't know how they were going to implement Johnny Manziel and use his skills in their offense and try to make it all fit together. And then defensively, they were going to be a little bit different as well. We'd watched a lot of film -- Mark Snyder, he's the D coordinator -- we'd watched a lot of film from South Florida and tried to get an idea of what they were going to do. But, same thing: We didn't know who was going to be in what spots, personnel wise. We know those things now, so I think that's an advantage that way. But the negative is that now they're five, six weeks into their play, they're settled at the quarterback spot, they're playing at a very high level and their kids are really buying into their program and they've really become a very good football team. So, you know, there's positives and negatives both ways.
SM: I want to talk about the offenses, just to give people a little bit of context. I looked this up, but let me know if I'm forgetting anybody. In 2002, the Texas Tech coaching staff, Mike Leach's staff, it was you, Dana Holgorsen, Art Briles, and your quarterback was Kliff Kingsbury, who's going to be the offensive coordinator you go up against this week. Did I leave anybody out there?
SD: No, not really, no.
SM: So back then, the Air Raid, as people call it, it was just you guys. It was unorthodox, or considered to be, and you probably felt like you were doing something very unique. And now it really has spread out throughout the country, especially people taking notice with what West Virginia's doing right now. What's it like to see this offense that you were kind of at the ground floor for now spreading out all over the country?
SD: Yeah, we used to kind of be the freak show of college football back then. It was just so different. Really you can take it all the way back to Kentucky and '97, and I was fortunate enough to be a part of that as a young coach with Hal Mumme. It was just so different from what people were seeing, and it's kind of caught on since then. What Dana did that was so good is he took it and added the fast-paced element to it. You know, we were a no-huddle team at Texas Tech, but we really didn't push the tempo. And Dana did that when he went to Houston and continued it at Oklahoma State and it's something we've been doing here as well for a couple of years and it's something that Kliff Kingsbury did as well. So it's a good offense and I think it becomes even more difficult to stop when you have a good, solid running game, which everybody's developed. And you add the pace of play, it becomes a tough offense to stop.
SM: How similar are the two offenses we'll be seeing in this game, yours and A&M's?
SD: You know, similar, similar. Everybody's taking it and putting their own spin on it. Tony Franklin's our offensive coordinator here and he does a really good job, and really introduced some excellent run game stuff into it and so it's really helped us being able to run the football. There's going to be some games when your quarterback may not play at a high level, or you might get a little banged up or whatever, and it makes a big difference when you can run the ball. It takes a lot of heat off your offense, especially your quarterback.
But the two offenses you'll see Saturday are really pretty similar. They're going to have a little bit more quarterback run game because of Johnny Manziel, their quarterback, he's a uniquely talented guy, really does a good job of creating offense. They've done a good job building the offense around his skill-set and allowing him to be a creative football player. It'll be similar. You know, the run games are a little different: Theirs will be a little bit more of a quarterback-based run game, ours will be a little bit more of a running back-based run game, but a lot of the passing concepts will be pretty similar.