South Carolina football preview: Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

Game info

When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250)

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 107.5 FM

Three story lines

1. Bouncing back: The Gamecocks took their first loss of the season in an ugly fashion, with an offense that had all sorts off issues and a defense that broke at all the wrong points. Louisiana Tech has been dangerous the past three years and is a bit of an unknown.

2. Seriously, what’s the deal with the Bulldogs? Skip Holtz-coached Louisiana Tech got national attention for the 87-yard loss that put it in 3rd and goal from 93 yards out, and it’s been hard to get a read on the team. It looked rough around the edges crushing an FCS team, got blown away by a good Mississippi State squad and then knocked off rival and two-time Conference USA champion Western Kentucky, whose quality in turn also isn’t clear.

3. Life after Deebo. The Gamecocks will be without their do-everything playmaker for a while, and the question is, how does the offense adapt? There are still high-potential pass catchers, but none as developed or currently dangerous as him.

Three players to watch

1. Sophomore quarterback J’mar Smith is a bit of a departure from the recent run of Bulldogs passers, as he has higher upside as a runner and isn’t as polished a passer. Still, he’s thrown for 722 yards and three touchdowns this season, after putting 306 yards on the Hilltoppers, and averaged 6.2 yards a carry discounting sacks.

2. The Bulldogs lost a pair of game-breaking receivers after last season, but tailback Jarred Craft is a returning engine of the offense. In three games he has 248 rushing yards, at 5.2 a carry, and four receptions for 30 yards and a score. In 2016, he was a 1,000-yard runner and the No. 3 option through the air.

3. In three games, defensive end Jaylon Ferguson has two sacks, two blocked kicks and ranks fifth on the team with 13 tackles. That’s off a season when he ranked third nationally with 14 1/2 sacks. At 6-foot-5, 269 pounds, CBS ranks him as the No. 71 prospect in the 2018 draft.

Scouting report

▪  The Louisiana Tech offense is diverse and can be pretty wide open. It’s a group that plays four receivers with regularity, moves them around and doesn’t hesitate to attack deep. In the past, it’s also been able to support a two-back power running game and once featured touchdown machine Kenneth Dixon.

▪  To this point, the Bulldogs have gotten a lot of work out of Craft and Boston Scott. The latter is a 5-foot-6 sparkplug, a player who is at 6 yards a carry and ranked second on the team in targets before the Western Kentucky game. In the first two contests, the running game did a good job keeping the team moving and ahead of the chains.

▪  Smith is a more mobile option than Ryan Higgins was last year, but he’s inconsistent as a passer. He sometimes trusts his strong arm and will put the ball up for grabs. He already has four fumbles on the season.

▪  Louisiana Tech had one of the more prolific offenses in the country the past two seasons, but a receiver has yet to step up and fill the shoes left by Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson, who combined for 219 catches, 3,354 yards and 31 touchdowns. Teddy Veal leads the team with 15 catches and 133 yards.

▪  The defense has shown a lot of standard nickel looks early in its FCS game, granted working out of more three-down lines than four-down. Last season, it was not a strong group, though it did an OK job limiting big plays.

▪  Defensive end Jaylon Ferguson mostly seems to play with a hand down at the standard defensive end spot, but the Bulldogs staff will move him around a little.

▪  A safety, DaMarion King, ranks as the top tackler, but that’s not much of a surprise considering the first two games were high-scoring affairs with Mississippi State and an FCS team.

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