New Orleans Bowl grades: Offensive stars shine in Bulldogs win
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Bulldogs’ 47-28 win against the Red Wolves in the New Orleans Bowl:
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Louisiana Tech’s stars showed up in the final game of the season and none shone brighter than quarterback Jeff Driskel (+5.2). Driskel was accurate on 76.5 percent of his throws and passed for 458 yards and three touchdowns. The quarterback used the entire field as he was not afraid to take deep shots or just take a short gain if that was what the defense gave him. He completed four of his seven passes beyond 20 yards from the line of scrimmage for 178 yards and a touchdown. Although he was under pressure on 11 of his 40 dropbacks, his completion percentage of 70.0 was actually higher than when he could operate from a clean pocket. Furthermore, he passed for 18.8 yards per attempt when he was under pressure compared to only 9.6 yards when he was not under pressure.
Driskel was not the only offensive player on the Louisiana Tech team who had a brilliant game since Kenneth Dixon (+4.9) scored two rushing and two receiving touchdowns. While Dixon did not necessarily get a lot of help from his offensive line, it did not bother him as he averaged 3.4 yards after the contact and 71 of his 102 rushing yards came after contact. In addition, he forced three missed tackles on 21 carries. Dixon was not dangerous only as a runner, but also as a receiver coming out of the backfield. He caught all six of his targets and although Driskel had a perfect passer rating when throwing towards the running back, it had more to do with Dixon than the quarterback. On his way to two touchdowns, Dixon recorded 92 yards after the catch, which is more than 80 percent of the 112 receiving yards he had in this game.
If one defensive player had to be highlighted from the Louisiana Tech team prior to the New Orleans Bowl, it was surely defensive tackle Vernon Butler (+3.7). The senior defensive tackle graded out above +2.0 in his last 11 games and he extended this impressive streak against Arkansas State. Although, Butler did not have a sack or hit in this game, he did record three quarterback hurries and also batted down his first pass of the season. In addition to being a valuable asset in rushing the passer, Butler stood out with his work against the run too.
QB Jeff Driskel (+5.2)
RB Kenneth Dixon (+4.9)
CB Bryson Abraham (+4.0)
DT Vernon Butler (+3.7)
WR Trent Taylor (+2.9)
Arkansas State Red Wolves
The Red Wolves came into this game hoping that running back Michael Gordon (-0.3) can extend his streak of two consecutive games with positive grades; however, Gordon had to leave with an injury after only four snaps. Naturally, this had an impact on Arkansas State’s running game, which was highlighted by the fact that quarterback Fredi Knighten (-2.2) was the team’s highest-graded runner. While running backs Warren Wand (+1.8) and Johnston White (-1.0) both averaged above 6.0 yards per carry, they had as many fumbles as the number of missed tackles they forced with three.
Although, Knighten had a solid game as a runner, he did struggle in the passing game, which had an effect on Arkansas State’s offense. He completed only 33 percent of his passes thrown 10 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage and this inaccuracy really limited the options of the Red Wolves offense. While both of Knighten’s interceptions came when he was not under pressure, he actually performed worse when he was impacted by Louisiana Tech’s pass rush, which was a problem since he was under pressure on 47.1 percent of his dropbacks. He completed only four of his 13 passes on play when the pass rush got to him and his yards per attempt dropped from 7.4 yards to 2.4.
Despite the struggles, the Red Wolves did have a couple bright spots and one of them was sophomore cornerback Blaise Taylor (+2.2). Although Taylor fumbled a punt return, he made up for his special team mistake with couple dangerous returns, including one kickoff that he took the house. In addition, he was also one of the few players in the Arkansas State secondary who held their ground against the Bulldogs offense. Taylor was targeted twice and allowed one reception for nine yards as he knocked down the other pass going his way. Furthermore, Taylor graded out positively against the run as well.
DT Waylon Roberson (+3.4)
DE Ja’Von Rolland-Jones (+2.8)
RG Austin Moreton (+2.4)
CB Blaise Taylor (+2.2)
CB Nehemiah Wagner (+1.9)