NC State football 2021 schedule countdown: No. 9, Louisiana Tech
Introducing a 12-part series in which we rank NC State’s 2021 strength of schedule from the easiest opponent (No. 12) to the most challenging (No. 1).
Checking in at No. 9 is Louisiana Tech, the Wolfpack’s fifth opponent this fall.
The Pack is scheduled to host the Bulldogs in Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 2 at a time to be announced.
Head Coach: Skip Holtz (9th season) — 61-41 (.598)
2020 Record: 5-5
at Baylor — Canceled
at Southern Miss — W, 31-30
Houston Baptist — W, 66-38
at BYU — L, 45-14
UTEP — W, 21-17
Marshall — L, 35-17
at UTSA — L, 27-26
UAB — W, 37-34 (2OT)
Rice — Canceled
ULM — Canceled
at FIU — Canceled
at North Texas — W, 42-31
at TCU — L, 52-10
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Georgia Southern — L, 38-3
2017 — 94th
2018 — 80th
2019 — 97th
2020 — 71st
2021 — N/A
2020 Season Review
All and all, the 2020 season could be considered a success for Louisiana Tech, but a lopsided loss in the bowl game may have left a sour taste in the Bulldogs' mouths.
For the seventh straight season, head coach Skip Holtz took La. Tech to a bowl game. The main difference last fall was the end result. The Bulldogs were 6-0 in bowl appearances under Holtz prior to their 38-3 loss to Georgia Southern in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
Like every team in the country, one has to wonder how much COVID impacted Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs were 4-3 entering week nine, only to have their next three games canceled due to positive COVID-19 tests.
La. Tech bounced back with a double-digit win on the road but lost their last two contests, including the bowl game, by a combined margin of 77 points.
The Bulldogs received an overall season grade that ranked 91st among 128 FBS programs according to Pro Football Focus (PFF).
PFF graded Louisiana Tech's offense 102nd and its defense 70th among FBS teams.
Did You Know?
•Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz is the son of former NC State head coach Lou Holtz, who led the Wolfpack to a 33-12-3 record from 1971-1975. The older Holtz went on to coach at Arkansas, Minnesota, Notre Dame and South Carolina before becoming a college football analyst for ESPN.
•Skip Holtz is 1-3 all-time against NC State as a head coach. He went 1-2 against the Pack at East Carolina during his five seasons in Greenville from 2005-2009.
•NC State is 1-0 all-time against Louisiana Tech. The Wolfpack defeated the Bulldogs 40-14 in Carter-Finley Stadium in 2013, Holtz's first season at La. Tech.
There are valid arguments to be made on both sides of whether or not Louisiana Tech will improve or depreciate from its results in 2020.
On one hand, Holtz has led the Bulldogs to eight or more wins in five of his eight seasons in Ruston, La. On the other, La. Tech is losing a lot of production from its .500 club last fall.
Louisiana Tech ranks 105th among FBS teams in terms of overall returning production this season according to ESPN's Bill Connelly's SP+ metric. The Bulldogs rank 116th in returning production from an already-bad offense but 82nd in returning production from a decent defense.
Defensively, expect the Bulldogs to take another step forward in the right direction. Offensively, there may be concerns.
Graduate quarterback Luke Anthony, a transfer from Abilene Christian, was a bright spot for the La. Tech offense in 2020. He earned a start in eight of his nine appearances and was named Conference USA's Newcomer of the Year, but he missed the bowl game after suffering a season-ending leg injury in the regular season finale against TCU.
Anthony is expected to be back in time for the 2021 opener, but he could miss a good amount of time in the spring and into the summer while rehabbing his lower body.
The sooner he returns to 100 percent, the better for the Bulldogs. He completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 1,479 yards, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Louisiana Tech will lose leading rushers Israel Tucker and Justin Henderson, who combined for 900 rushing yards in 10 contests. Thus, junior running back Greg Garner will be the top returning rusher. Garner ran for 115 yards (3.5 per rush) and two touchdowns on 33 carries.
Sophomore wide receiver Smoke Harris is the top returning pass catcher. He caught a team-high 39 balls for 304 yards and four touchdowns.
The Bulldogs will get their leading tackler from last fall, freshman linebacker Tyler Grubbs, back. Grubbs produced 99 tackles, 9.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks, two pass breakups, one quarterback hurry and one forced fumble in his debut collegiate campaign.
Why No. 9 In The Countdown?
The lack of returning production is concerning, but Holtz has proven to deliver consistent results in his eight seasons at Louisiana Tech, so the Bulldogs have earned the benefit of the doubt to be a competitive Group of Five program year in and year out.
Short of any considerable surprises in the first four weeks of the season, NC State should be at least a touchdown favorite, if not more, for this home contest.
The one area of concern for the Wolfpack is playing this game a week after hosting Clemson in a contest that could decide the ACC Atlantic Division. Regardless of the result in that game, Clemson is a proven national powerhouse that doesn't just grind opponents down physically on game day. ACC teams don't exactly have the best record in games the week after they play the Tigers.
Luckily, Louisiana Tech shouldn't present the physical challenge another ACC or Power Five opponent would, so the win-or-lose hangover shouldn't have the same impact as back-to-back conference games.
Consider this the "expected to win, but you still have to show up" non-conference game.