This summer, The Clemson Insider is taking a closer look at Clemson’s opponents heading into the 2022 season. The series will be rolled out in the order in which each opponent appears on the Tigers’ schedule.
Louisiana Tech is starting over this fall.
Out is Skip Holtz, who led the Bulldogs to just eight wins in his final two seasons as head coach. In is Sonny Cumbie, the former Texas Tech quarterback and offensive coordinator who’s developed a reputation as one of the brightest young offensive minds in the sport.
After winning just three games last season, though, there’s plenty of work for Cumbie and his first-year squad to do before Tech makes the trip to Clemson on Sept. 17.
A Mike Leach disciple, Cumbie will look to implement a more wide-open offense and further improve an air attack at Louisiana Tech that ranked 35th nationally a season ago (262.6 passing yards per game). The question is who does Cumbie trust the most to put at the controls of his offense? The Bulldogs need a new starting quarterback, and they enter fall camp with a wide-open competition that will include Texas Tech transfer Parker McNeil, former Georgia and TCU signal caller Matt Downing and junior college transfer Jack Turner.
Tech still has weapons on the outside led by speedster Smoke Harris (team-high 71 catches last season), and the offensive line is in good shape with more than half its starting five returning. But finding some semblance of balance on the ground in order to keep defenses honest will be key for the Bulldogs, who ranked 106th nationally in rushing last season. Leading rusher Marcus Williams Jr. is no longer around either.
As much of an offensive background as Cumbie has in the sport, it won’t matter much unless the Bulldogs can drastically improve their porous defense from a season ago. Tech ranked 106th or worse in the FBS in points and yards allowed while finishing 10th in Conference USA in pass defense, allowing nearly 268 yards a game through the air.
Tech has some key pieces back at all three levels of its defense, including leading tackler Tyler Grubbs at linebacker, starters BeeJay Wilson and Cedric Woods in the secondary and all-conference caliber talent in Keivie Rose and Mykol Clark along the defensive line. But with nobody recording more than 3.5 sacks, the Bulldogs didn’t put nearly enough pressure on opposing offenses last season (98th and 103rd nationally in sacks and tackles for loss, respectively), something that will have to change this fall under first-year coordinator Scott Power.
Tech is losing punter Cesar Barajas, who moved on from the program. But the Bulldogs have one of Conference USA’s top placekickers back in Jacob Barnes, who converted on 17 of 21 field goals last season. He has also punted for Tech before, so it’s possible Barnes pulls double duty this fall.
Bulldogs at a glance
Head coach: Sonny Cumbie (first season)
2021 results: 3-9, 2-6 C-USA
Last meeting: Lost to Clemson, 51-0, in 2006
Key departures: QB Austin Kendall, RB Marcus Williams Jr., WR Jerrod Means, LB Trey Baldwin, DL Ben Bell, DB Baylen Buchanan
Key returners: RB Greg Garner, WR Smoke Harris, WR Tre Harris, TE Griffin Hebert, LB Tyler Grubbs, DB BeeJay Wilson, CB Cedric Woods, DL Keivie Rose, DL Mykol Clark
Key additions: QB Matt Downing, QB Parker McNeil, QB Jack Turner, RB DeAnthony Gaston, WR Devonta Lee, CB Jhamal Shelby
Photo credit: Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal/USA Today Network