The Missouri Tigers begin Year Three of the Eli Drinkwitz era on a rare Thursday night to open the 2022 campaign against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs out of the Group of Five’s Conference USA. After finishing last season with a 3-9 record, the Bulldogs have been picked to finish ninth out of 11 teams in the C-USA from the conference’s preseason poll. Louisiana Tech begins a new era with former Texas Tech quarterback Sonny Cumbie as their head coach. Kick-off is set for 7:00 p.m. CST on ESPNU
To break it all down, we get a Louisiana Tech perspective from Ben Carlisle, who is a former La Tech baseball player and the publisher of Rivals’ Bleed Tech Blue.
Here’s the Q and A:
Sammy Stava: Louisiana Tech finished last season with a 3-9 record, ending the Skip Holtz era and also breaking a run of seven consecutive bowl appearances. What are the realistic expectations under first year head coach Sonny Cumbie?
Ben Carlisle: Louisiana Tech lost five games by one possession in 2021. Four of those five losses came down to the final play, so the 3-9 record can be deceiving a bit. Sonny Cumbie isn’t entering his first season with a lack of talent, but there are a lot of question marks. There are upwards of 35 guys that have never played a game in a Bulldog uniform, Matthew Downing will be making only his 2nd career start at quarterback in the season opener, and the defense allowed nearly 35 points per game a season ago. The non-conference schedule is tough with trips to Missouri, Clemson, and South Alabama. The conference slate features road trips to North Texas, UTSA and Charlotte so it won’t be an easy road. Expectations are somewhere around 5-7 wins, but if the Bulldogs found themselves in a bowl game in December it would have been a highly successful first year for Cumbie.
SS: Louisiana Tech was picked to finish ninth out of 11 teams in the Conference USA preseason poll. Is that a fair placement for them this season, and what will need to happen for them to outperform those predictions?
BC: When you look at the 3-9 record from 2021, a new coaching staff, a new quarterback that’s never seen extended time at the FBS level, and a defense that allowed nearly 35 points per game it’s understandable that the Bulldogs were picked 9th in C-USA in the preseason. To outperform the predictions, solid quarterback play and a slightly improved defense would have the Bulldogs easily right in the middle of the pack in the conference. It’s college football though, it will all boil down to the level of play Louisiana Tech gets from its QB position.
SS: Who are some players to watch on the offensive and defensive side of the ball that Mizzou fans will need to pay attention to?
BC: Offensively, Tre Harris & Smoke Harris (no relation) are two names to watch at the receiver position. Tre is a 6’2, 210 pound outside guy that will play in the NFL one day. He possesses an impressive blend of size and speed and showed the ability to make tough contested catches a season ago. Smoke is entering his 5th year in the program and has caught 159 passes in his Bulldog career. Cumbie and company will get the 5’6 receiver the ball in a number of different ways throughout the game on Thursday.
Defensively, Tyler Grubbs is the name that’ll jump off the page from his linebacker position. The third-year player has accumulated 193 tackles and 19.5 TFL during his first two years on campus. The New Orleans native won’t wow anyone with his measurements, but he always finds himself around the football. Myles Brooks is a transfer cornerback from SFA that is poised for a big season. The former Arkansas commit had three interceptions at Stephen F. Austin a season ago and has been the star of fall camp for Louisiana Tech in August.
SS: Matthew Downing has been named Louisiana Tech’s starting quarterback to open the season, according to ESPN’s Pete Thamel. What do you expect out of him against Missouri?
BC: It’s tough to say what I expect from Matthew Downing on Thursday night. He’s thrown 44 passes in his collegiate career, so I would imagine that he’s going to be amped up early on. I think it’ll be key for Louisiana Tech to avoid turnovers, especially early in the game so that he can get settled in. He’s got the ability to use his legs in the run game, and I think that could be a factor against Missouri’s solid pass rush. Downing will need to get the ball to his playmakers efficiently on Thursday night in order for the Bulldogs to have success offensively.
SS: Missouri comes in as a 19-point favorite. How do you see this game playing out? Have a final score prediction?
BC: Louisiana Tech has a number of unknowns across the board, both teams are starting quarterbacks that don’t have a ton of game experience, and it’s the first game of the season. It’s tough to know how this game might play out, but I think it’s a 7-10 point game well into the 3rd quarter before Missouri’s depth in the trenches becomes too much for Tech to overcome. Missouri wins 30-17.