Arkansas State Red Wolves (9-3 SU, 8-4 ATS) vs. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (8-4 SU, 6-6 ATS)
R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Date/Time: Saturday, December 19, 2015 at 9PM EST
Where: Mercedes Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: ARST +2/LT -2
Over/Under Total: 67
The Arkansas State Red Wolves play the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs on December 19 in the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl at the Superdome. The Red Wolves are a 9-win team, the Sun Belt champions with an 8-game win streak where they finished unbeaten in conference. After a 1-3 start, they showed themselves to be the cream of the Sun Belt, ending the season with 55-17 pounding of Texas State. Louisiana Tech was 8-4, finishing second in the Conference USA West Division. Their season ended on a sour note in a 58-24 loss to division winner Southern Miss. But they won 7 of 8 before that and are favored to win this game.
It can be difficult to cross-reference these types of conferences and teams. These teams rarely mix in the same circles. Both teams have been of high quality, but in their own specialized contexts. Arkansas St. opened the season as fodder for USC, Missouri, and a good Toledo team, falling to 1-3 after four games. They hit a big groove once hitting conference play, ending the season with 8 conference wins. USC beat them by 39 and Toledo by 30, though they were tough against Missouri, losing 27-20. All of their wins on this 8-game run have been by double-digits and they’ve covered 8 of 12 spreads this season, including 4 straight.
Louisiana Tech opened the season in unsettling fashion; dropping games to Kansas State and Conference USA top-dog Western Kentucky. But they were competitive in both games with a chance to win and later showed their worth by winning 7 of 8. The only loss in that stretch was a road loss to SEC power Mississippi State. The loss to end the season to Southern Miss was a bit of a letdown, losing by 34 as 5-point favorites. Other than the cream of the C-USA and two teams from power conferences, they’ve been excellent and this game appears to be right in their wheelhouse.
As is usually the case with a good Louisiana Tech team, the offense relies on a high-octane aerial attack, spearheaded this season by the arm of former Florida starter Jeff Driskel. In his new role, he has been superb and dealing with teams like Alabama and all those heavyweight SEC defenses has obviously made him a force in this conference. He has over 3500 yards passing with 24 TD passes. His three picks were key in the loss to Southern Miss and as was evident in his Gator days, he’s prone to screwing up at times, but has still had a fine season. He works with a really good receiver in Trent Taylor, along with slew of other receiving options, including a deep-threat in Carlos Henderson. But the key cog on this offensive wheel is senior running back Kenneth Dixon, who has 17 rushing touchdowns and 5 more through the air. The Bulldogs have playmakers on offense and special teams and are a dangerous bunch.
Louisiana Tech is quite adept against the run, ranked 11th in the land. That hasn’t resonated in them necessarily having a good defense, as the pass “D” remains a major issue. It wasn’t uncommon to see even quarterbacks who were struggling thrive against this bunch. For the most part, it was fine as long as they were playing the bottom-end Conference USA fodder, but against the more together teams they faced, the “D” was a major liability. While a collapse against the likes of Arkansas State is not a certainty, they do figure to get exploited a bit in this matchup.
Arkansas State’s defense is a little more of a difference-making unit. They led all of college football with 26 interceptions. And their pass-rush is able to apply some heat from time to time. There are good players across all areas of this defense. The aptly-named Money Hunter has returned two picks for touchdowns, while Rocky Hayes has been a playmaker in the secondary, as well, with 6 picks. They’re not an altogether foolproof unit, giving up nearly 29 points per game. Like Louisiana Tech, they’re sketchy against the pass and have given up alarming chunks of yardage this season.
The Red Wolves offense is led by QB Fredi Knighten, who split time with James Tabary at times this season. He’s been fairly effective as of late, with multiple TD throws in 7 of his last 8 games. He has some nice receivers, with J.D. McKissic, Dijon Paschal, and Tres Houston, who has 10 TDs among his 33 receptions. But the real work in this offense is done on the ground. In that category, they are led by a trio of difference-making backs in 1000-yard rusher Michael Gordon, Warren Hand, and TD-machine Johnston White, who has 14 touchdowns on 575 yards rushing. This offense is 10th in the country in averaging 41 points per game.
This is a well-matched game and presents an interesting quandary for the betting man. Both teams should be well-rested for this. Arkansas State last played on December 5, while Louisiana Tech last played on November 28. And both teams are relatively healthy. Each team has compelling standout traits, while possessing alarming drawbacks that the other team could exploit. But the matchup component seems to favor Louisiana Tech a bit. The conference they played in was better at the top. And they should conceivably avoid getting run over by the Arkansas State run-game, which is a handful. In a game that could come down to the end, I see Louisiana Tech nipping the Red Raiders at the wire by a head.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs minus 2 points.
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