SHREVEPORT,LA. — SHREVEPORT, La. -- Western Michigan University football coach Al Molde scratches his head, hums a little, scratches his head some more, then finally comes up with an answer.
"That's a tough question," said Molde, whose team lost to Maryland, 23-0, in 1989 and beat Louisiana Tech, 27-21, this season. "Is Louisiana Tech in Maryland's league? Depth-wise, probably not. Talent-wise, give Maryland the edge, too. I was so awfully impressed with Maryland when we played them. But if Maryland thinks it doesn't have to play well to beat Louisiana Tech, they're wrong. Dead wrong."
Maryland (6-5) will play Louisiana Tech (8-3) tomorrow in the Poulan-Weed Eater Independence Bowl at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, La.
Western Michigan is the participants' only common opponent during the past two years, but other opposing coaches on Louisiana Tech's schedule are giving Maryland a similar warning.
"I haven't seen Maryland play, but I think Maryland will find out that Louisiana Tech has an excellent program," said McNeese State coach Bobby Keasler, whose team was defeated by the Bulldogs, 51-3, this season, only the second time in the past 10 years Keasler has lost to Louisiana Tech.
"They have a solid defense and they have some quality athletes," Keasler said. "Tech is in a great situation. If they lose to Maryland, they are supposed to and walk away saying they know what it needs to be an established program. If they win, then it's a great steppingstone for their program. Maryland should be a little leery."
Akron coach Gerry Faust, the former Notre Dame coach, said: "Louisiana Tech should have beaten Auburn but lost on a last-minute field goal [16-14]. If they can play with Auburn, then that means they can play with anybody."
When anybody talks about Louisiana Tech, the attention immediately focuses on head coach Joe Raymond Peace, who turned the program into a winner in just three years, two of them in Division I-A.
The attention also shifts to his one-back offensive set and standout performers in quarterback Gene Johnson, running backs Mike Richardson and Jason Davis, and wide receiver Bobby Slaughter.
Johnson, a 6-foot-1, 201-pound junior, has completed 165 of 297 passes for 2,129 yards and 13 touchdowns. Only nine of his passes have been intercepted. His favorite receiver is the too-slow, too-small (5-11, 174) Slaughter, who has caught 78 passes for 994 yards and five touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Richardson rushed for 1,114 yards on 222 carries, and reserve Davis had 929 yards on 164 attempts. The Bulldogs averaged 449 yards of total offense, causing a serious problem for enemy defenders.
Which do you shut down first, the pass or the run?
"The Bulldogs have a wide-open attack," said Keasler. "They'll throw in almost any situation. Gene, when he is on, is great and Slaughter is unbelieveable. You can't give them time to throw or they will pick you apart."
Faust said: "Everyone talks about them being so great at passing, but I think it's their running game that kills people. They spread you out all over the field, then boom, hit big runs with Richardson and Davis. They are two excellent backs."
Get the picture?
And Louisiana Tech's defense isn't too bad, either. The unit has allowed only 143.6 rushing and 164.6 passing yards per game.
Louisiana Tech, which runs a 4-3 defense, is particularly strong up front, with defensive ends Howard McMahan (6-3, 236) and Eric Shaw (6-2, 233), defensive guards Nate Davis (6-1, 289) and Kavin Crawford (6-2, 272) and linebackers Myron Baker, Stan Polk and Lorenza Baker. Myron Baker and Shaw lead the team in tackles with 71 and 50, respectively.
One point to consider, though, is that Maryland's offensive line has about an 18-pound-per-man advantage.
"It really depends on how Tech wants to play the game," said Faust. "They were physical with us, but we're a lot smaller than Maryland. Then again, maybe Tech doesn't have the depth to match up with Maryland's size. It will be interesting."
Also, despite the defensive compliments, only Keasler thought the Bulldogs' secondary was above average.
"Adequate, nothing more," said Faust.
Louisiana Tech's players aren't accepting any underdog role. They say they can match Maryland toe to toe.
"It's a great compliment for our team to play against a team from the ACC," said Johnson. "But once you step on the field, the big name and the big conference don't do you any good. We're going to show people the kind of good football we can play."
Slaughter said: "We're going out to try to win this sucker. We have as much to lose as Maryland by losing this game. We feel that we have established a reputation in Division I-A, and for us to keep it, we have to play and beat Maryland. I don't think we're in a no-lose situation."
Maryland players apparently agree.
"We didn't come here to take anybody lightly," said Maryland wide receiver Barry Johnson. "They are 8-3. We're the 6-5 team."
$ 17 at E. Carolina 27
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40 Arkansas St. 7
24 SW Louisiana 10
14 at Auburn 16
35 at Tulsa 21
31 Stephen F. Austin 22
31 at NE Louisiana 7
36 Akron 15
31 Colorado State 30