FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Don’t expect Arkansas’ outmanned opponent to enter Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium with wide eyes and ready to roll over in the season opener Saturday.
Make no mistake, Louisiana Tech — the 26-point underdog from Conference USA — isn’t talking upset. Yet, at the very least, the Bulldogs have reason to believe the moment won’t overwhelm them.
The program has been here before, developing a willingness to regularly take on multiple Power 5 programs in a season. Louisiana Tech traveled to Mississippi State and K-State last season, and played at Oklahoma and Auburn in 2014.
The Bulldogs have even pulled off victories or put a scare into opponents in several recent games against Power 5 teams. Since 2011, they are 4-8 against such teams. Four of those losses came in games decided by six points or less with two going into overtime. The wins have been against Mississippi (2011), Virginia (2012) and Illinois twice (2012, 2014). All of those came on the road with the exception of the 2014 win over Illinois in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
“I think from a program standpoint, you look at our history going back through time, we’ve had some big wins,” said fourth-year Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz. “I think the mindset … you’ve got a school like Louisiana Tech that has been underneath the radar and has always had a anybody, anywhere, anytime mentality. We were independent for a long time and had to play a lot of games where we were not favored. I think this program is a very proud program and this program has learned to fight and compete regardless of the odds or who the opponent is. I think that’s just been the history and the mindset of this program.”
Arkansas has been here before, too. The Razorbacks are well-aware of the dangers of not taking a fearless opponent from a less-prominent conference seriously. Senior defensive end and team captain Deatrich Wise recently pointed out last season’s 16-12 loss to Toledo at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, saying the Hogs overlooked the Mid-American Conference foe.
“Start fast and finish strong,” Wise said. “That’s pretty much what we have to do. In past years, we have overlooked teams and they came in and beat us. So, this year, we have to make sure we start fast and then we finish strong. Every quarter, every play, for four quarters do our job.”
While Holtz has confidence in his program, he said the 2016 Bulldogs are looking at Saturday as nothing more than an opportunity to find out where his team stands.
Louisiana Tech is replacing several key contributors from a 9-4 team, including 4,000-yard passer Jeff Driskel and running back Kenneth Dixon, who finished his career as the program’s all-time leading rusher.
“I believe we’re 123 out of 127 in (returning experience), so there’s only four teams in the country with less experience than we have,” Holtz said. “I don’t know that in a SEC venue at Arkansas is exactly where you want to cut your teeth. We’re starting a freshman quarterback (J’Mar Smith). I don’t know that that’s where you want his first induction in college football to be.
“We know it’s going to be a heck of a challenge, but we’re looking at it as a program as an opportunity.”