Skip Holtz and Louisiana Tech football feeling the sting of close losses | Marcase

John Marcase
Special to The Town Talk

The good news for Skip Holtz is he doesn’t have to play the what-if game Saturday night.

If any collegiate football coach in America needed a bye week, it is Louisiana Tech’s Holtz. OK, perhaps LSU’s Ed Orgeron might need one more, but that is for a different reason.

The Bulldogs enter their first break of the 2021 season at 2-3 but coming off their third loss, all by a touchdown or less.

This past Saturday, the Bulldogs’ rally at No. 23 North Carolina State came up short, 34-27.

It was just another Saturday full of heartburn for Lou’s son.

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Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz confers with other coaches via a headset during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. Mississippi State won 35-34. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

“It is gut-wrenching as a coach because you are not able to get them across the finish line," said Holtz after the game.

Tech is arguably two plays away from being 4-1. Maybe four plays from a 5-0 start and possible Top 25 ranking.

The season opened with the Bulldogs looking for a victory against the SEC’s Mississippi State Bulldogs, a team they had not beaten since 2008. Tech led MSU, 34-14, in the fourth quarter but Mississippi State rallied. The maroon Bulldogs scored the final 21 points to escape with a 35-34 victory.

Two weeks later, Tech hosted SMU and former Bulldogs coach Sonny Dykes.

In a back-and-forth affair, the Bulldogs appeared to have taken control late in the fourth quarter as Austin Kendall hit Marcus Williams Jr. for a 6-yard touchdown with 5:07 left to regain the lead, 34-33. With 36 seconds left, Jacob Barnes booted a 47-yard field goal to increase the lead to 37-33.

Unfortunately, SMU won on a 33-yard Hail Mary on the final play. The Ponies went 73 yards in six plays and 36 seconds to stun the Ruston crowd.

“Hard to lose, especially in the manner we just lost,” said Holtz after that loss. “There is nothing anyone can say to make the pain go away. I wish there was somebody who could take the pain and hurt away from everybody in that locker room. Football is a 60-minute game. We just have to keep banging that rock.”

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There is no disgrace in Tech losing to Mississippi State, SMU or NC State.

Mississippi State is beginning to find its footing under second-year coach Mike Leach and just pounded Texas A&M. SMU is 5-0 and followed up its win over Tech with a thorough beating of Metroplex rival, TCU, 42-34.

The Wolfpack are ranked and could win the ACC thanks to the downturn in fortunes at Clemson this season. The Pack already own a 27-21 win over Clemson and may not be challenged until closing the season with Wake Forest and North Carolina.

After the bye week, it doesn’t get any easier for Holtz and Tech as four of its next five games are against Conference USA foes UTEP, Texas-San Antonio, UAB and Charlotte, who have a combined record of 15-5.

The only way to take away the disappointment of those three losses are with victories, and those figure to be difficult to come by.

North Carolina State's Aydan White (3) breaks up a pass intended for Louisiana Tech's Bub Means (15) but is called for interference during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

"There is not a moral victory in being close,” said Holtz after the loss to the Wolfpack. “We did not come here to play close. We have been through the rough side of the mountain. We have had a very difficult non-conference schedule.  That is going to make us better. We have to eliminate some of the mistakes and do a better job as a staff. 

“I want to win because I know how bad the players want it and how hard they are working.”

It also makes getting up on Sunday a lot easier.

John Marcase is a former assistant managing editor and sports editor of The Town Talk. He writes a weekly column.