I know how the old sports cliché goes, "It's not how you start, its how you finish." And I know that saying was never truer than last year as memories of the Bulldogs struggling in the 2nd half still haunt Tech fans. Ahead 23-16 against Navy, but go scoreless in the 2nd half only to lose 37-23. Tied 3-3 to Southern Miss at the half, but 2 key turnovers late in the 4th quarter ends the game in a 13-12 loss.
These finishing results were tough to swallow. But the growing pains, as much as they are despised, were to be expected with the recent major football changes at LA Tech: Head Coach Derek Dooley out, Sonny Dykes in, power offense out, no huddle and spread offense in. But no one could've predicted the 2nd half woes that would follow.
Since the defensive numbers were pretty consistent across the board, let's just take a look at the 2010 end-of-season "high octane" numbers.
184 total points in the 1st half (4 out of 24 quarters scoreless) 137 total points in the 2nd half (9 out of 24 quarters scoreless)
Even the most casual fan could tell you without analyzing the stats that the Dykes/Franklin offense, that was so praised about, blundered way too often down the stretch, constantly going 3 and out and turning the ball over at crucial moments ultimately resulting in a mediocre 5-7 record. In fact in the 7 games Tech lost, they were either winning or tied at halftime in 4 of them.
Recent quotes from head coach Sonny Dykes and Matt Broha indicate a strong emphasis on this upcoming 2011 season to finish strong.
"Last year we didn't finish the way we should have," said senior defensive end Broha.
"I was disappointed the way we played in the second half of games, said Dykes. "We were a poor second half team. That's been a focus of ours at the end of last season, through off-season conditioning, through spring practices and it will continue to be a focus of ours as we get into fall camp.
Most Tech fans hope there won't be a repeat of the second half performances. The coaching staff and the offense will have a year under their belt, key players are returning, and arguably the best recruiting class in recent Tech history as freshmen.
So from a broader perspective, I'm actually more concerned about the team starting strong rather than finishing strong. Here's what I mean. What do these numbers tell you?
1-4, 2-3, 2-3, 1-4, 1-4
These are the records of the first 5 games of the last 5 seasons. And each of these seasons resulted in a losing record aside from the 8-5 Independence Bowl champions from 2008. These slow starts are often equated to a tough non-conference schedule full of body-bag teams. Texas A&M, Auburn, Kansas, California, Nebraska, etc. Recent efforts by the athletic department have provided the team with a more winnable schedule with the likes of Navy, Southern Miss, Houston, Army, etc. But they aren't winning those games either, yet. This year the first 5 games line up like so - at Southern Miss, Central Arkansas, Houston, at Mississippi State, and finally Hawaii.
At minimum, a 3-2 record coming out of this stretch is a necessity for this year and for every year going forward if the Bulldogs are to have any consistent success. Instead of waiting until the last game to try and achieve a winning record and possible bowl bid, they must get off to a quick start. They cannot continue to put pressure on themselves by having to play catch up in the win column. It starts on September 3rd at 9 PM in Hattiesburg, Miss. They must start strong.