Louisiana Tech quarterback Jeff Driskel knew why Ruston would be his home upon earning an additional year of eligibility as a graduate transfer.
As ESPN’s Jerry Punch noted during the game, Driskel watched the Bulldogs fall to the Marshall Thundering Herd in the Conference USA Championship last year, with then quarterback Cody Sokol throwing an interception that would ultimately lose the game. As Sokol, in distress, trotted back to the sidelines following the turnover, head coach Skip Holtz willingly embraced him. It was a significant factor that sent Driskel to Louisiana Tech.
Thanks to Driskel and his partner in crime in running back Kenneth Dixon, the Bulldogs ousted the Arkansas State Red Wolves in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, 47-28, marking the first time in school history that Louisiana Tech has notched bowl wins in consecutive seasons.
While the Bulldogs wrap up the year with nine wins, Driskel left his mark by throwing for 457 yards to go along with 3 passing touchdowns. Dixon made a mark as well, totalling 204 yards and 4 scores.
In a game featuring a pair of teams that with savvy offenses, it didn’t take long for the senior tandem to ignite the first array of fireworks. Driskel pioneered an 88-yard opening drive, ultimately dropping this gem into the hands of Dixon, who, with finesse, dragged both feet in to throw the first punch.
Ultimately it was double-digit victory, yet the win didn’t necessarily come with ease.
After a deluge of first-half penalties and sophomore wide receiver Carlos Henderson suffering a leg injury on the opening drive, the Bulldogs found themselves deadlocked at 17 with Arkansas State heading into the locker room. In terms of Driskel and Dixon carrying the load, Holtz chatted with reporters at halftime regarding the offensive production.
“We lost Carlos for the game and we’re trying to make to do,” said Holtz. “I think Kenneth is playing really hard, but I think we’re competing and that’s all we can do.”
Whatever slack was lost in the passing game was wholeheartedly replaced by the all-everything running back, as Driskel found Dixon once more midway through the third quarter strolling down the sideline and into the endzone—tying Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds for the all-time FBS lead for touchdowns with 85.
From bulldozing Red Wolves defenders to needing a fresh stitching on his jersey, Dixon collected touchdown No. 86 on an 8-yard scamper in the third quarter, then tallied No. 87 on a 4-yard rushing score early in the fourth.
The impact of both Driskel and Dixon for Louisiana Tech tiptoe opposite narratives.
Driskel, the graduate transfer who hasdworked under five different offensive coordinators, grew increasingly comfortable at the mid-major level. The Conference USA Championship ship had all but sailed, yet Driskel restored a personal, impaired reputation that left the once-Gatorade Player of the Year feeling somewhat an outcast after a minor slip in Gainesville.
For Dixon, he’s surpassed such names as Ricky Williams, Montee Ball and Ricky Williams for the most touchdowns in college football history. And while he inscribes a long-lasting legacy on the program in its entirety, scouts at the next level are quick to rave about the senior from Strong, Ark.
Dixon is listed as high as the third-best running back in the 2016 NFL Draft class. In fact, some would say he’s the top back.
Whether one–or both–find new homes at the next platform, they’ll be shutting the door on a program that leaned on them in their senior seasons.