2019 Season Preview: Opponent by Opponent

Our final installment of the 2019 season preview will finally arrive next week. But for now, let’s take a look at each of Tech’s opponents this season.

These aren’t predictions of how the Bulldogs will perform, but rather the likely strengths and weaknesses of each team on the schedule.

Texas

Heisman-candidate Sam Ehlinger is back at the reigns of Texas’s pass happy offense, but last year’s leading receiver is gone. Most of the losses for the Longhorns are on the defensive side, however, as three starting linemen, two starting linebackers, and three starting members of the secondary are all gone.

The idea that head coach Tom Herman loses a lot of winnable games is pretty well documented. But even looking past last year’s loss to Maryland, the Longhorns struggled against some less-than-stellar opposition. Texas only beat Kansas by 7 and Tulsa by 5. Both of those teams finished the year 3-9.

So as far as body bag games go, this one is extremely winnable.

Grambling State

Tech follows up its most difficult game of the year with its easiest in Grambling State. The Tigers will most likely be an above-average FCS team in 2019, helped by 15 returning starters. QB Geremy Hickbottom (yes that’s his name, and he’s heard all the jokes) played an integral part in Grambling’s success late last year, so all eyes should be on him.

On paper, this should be an easy game for Tech. I mean, is it even possible to lose to an FCS school?

Bowling Green

The Eagles were a pass heavy team last year, but expect that to change as Bowling Green returns a couple 200+ lb running backs to run behind a few 310+ lb linemen. And that’s just the way first year head coach Scott Loeffler likes it: bulk up and run the ball.

The defense was atrocious last year, but the Eagles do return quite a bit of experience on the front seven. The glaring weakness is the pass defense, so the big question will be: can J’Mar exploit it?

FIU

The Golden Panther offense found success last year in the short passing game due to new QB James Morgan. The Bowling Green-transfer excelled at keeping the offense moving with high percentage passes. The entire backfield returns for FIU, but none of the running backs were all that effective last year.

On the other side of the ball, FIU had a lot of success against the pass, but struggled mightily against the run. Some new coaches have been brought in to try to patch up the run D, but if Tech can get a run game going, they’ll have a shot at taking down one of the favorites to win the conference.

Rice

Speaking of favorites to win the conference, Rice is not that. What the Owls will do is run the ball. Like a lot. Like more than you’d think any team should.

The offense was bad last year, but the defensive was arguably worse. The only strength of the 2018 Rice D was their run stopping ability, but with nearly the entire defensive line gone, that may change in their 2019 campaign.

The Owls did redshirt quite a few players last year, and with the new redshirting rules, those players were still able to play in a handful of games last season. In a C-USA West Division without a clear front-runner, that extra experience may catapult Rice into the division title conversation. Or it probably won’t.

UMass

The Minutemen return to Ruston with a different coach than the last time we saw them in 2016. Walt Bell now leads the UMass program, and as a young offensive-minded coach, Bell would probably be getting compared to Sean McVay if this were the NFL.

UMass was very bad last year, and this season is not looking any better. There’s a pretty big question mark at QB, but most of the receiving corps return. Much of the starting front seven are also back, but the secondary is nearly completely new.

With so much production lost from last year and a new head coach, this has a feeling of a Skip Holtz 2013 situation for the Minutemen.

USM

The defense was the strength of the Golden Eagles last year, and most of the starters return for the 2019 campaign. The offense is what held Southern Miss back a year ago, even with notorious traitor Jack Abraham leading the NCAA in completion percentage. But Abraham may not get to try for a repeat performance, as QB Tate Whatley competes with him for the starting job.

The struggles last year were due to a poor run game and a multitude of sacks. Typically, both of those problems are caused by one thing: poor offensive line play. Head Coach Jay Hopson agreed as he brought in three JUCO offensive lineman (and a wave of new offensive staff) to try to turn around the one glaring weakness of the Golden Eagles.

UTEP

The Miners are a textbook definition of a run first team. They will rush with their running backs, quarterbacks, or really anyone who can move the ball forward on the ground. Occasionally, though, UTEP will try a deep pass to keep the defense from fully selling out against the run.

The team really struggled last year, and with the #1 QB arrested and the #1 RB out for the year due to injury, this season may have gotten a lot tougher. That said, Tech only beat a 1-11 UTEP squad last year by 7 points. So unless Tech steps up their run defense, this game might be closer than it should be.

North Texas

Offensively, UNT is the opposite of UTEP in both success and strategy. The Mean Green want to get QB Mason Fine the ball in his hands and let him make a play with his arm. Fine did struggle a bit down the stretch last season, which could either be explained by a minor injury, or maybe teams have started to figure him out.

The offense is talented outside of the QB position as well. Although UNT rarely ran the ball, the four-headed backfield put up solid numbers.

The offensive coordinator is gone, but most North Texas fans will be quick to point out that Head Coach Seth Littrel had a large part in last season’s success. But still, it wouldn’t be surprising to see UNT take a small step back this year offensively.

Marshall

The Thundering Herd want to be a pass-happy team (and they have just the QB for it in Sophomore Isaiah Green), but their running game may be just too good to ignore. However, Marshall’s top two WRs from last year are gone, which imposes a decent challenge to one of the favorites to win C-USA East.

Marshall has one of the best defenses in the conference last year, but even with a mostly-intact secondary, much of the front seven will need to be replaced. If the players waiting in the wings are able to partially make up for the departures, expect a scary good season in Huntington, Worst Virginia.

UAB

The Blazers have a lot of gaps to fill going into the 2019 season. They return a solid QB in Tyler Johnson III, but he losses most of his wideouts. The leading rusher (Spencer Brown) also returns, and although the running back rarely makes a huge play, he consistently picks up medium sized gains on the ground.

The defense was boom-or-bust last season, almost to an extreme. The Blazers led C-USA in sacks, but also gave up quite a few big plays. With so many questions marks on both sides of the ball, it’s difficult to gauge just how good UAB will be this year.

UTSA

It’s difficult to find something positive about the 2018 UTSA offense. Head Coach Frank Wilson has done an amazing job of getting talent to San Antonio, but just hasn’t been able to get the pieces to fall together, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

On defense, things look a little better. The Roadrunners were able to stop the run, by were UTSA-offense-level horrific against the pass. There is a lot of potential on this roster, so it’s definitely possible that UTSA is able to figure it out at some point this season.

Conclusion

This is a weak schedule overall, but there are some very talented teams on it.

You can tune in (or whatever it’s called for a website) next week to see how each of us think this season will go.

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