Ben Roethlisberger-Tom Brady? No, the NFL’s opening night quarterback pairing isn’t the most intriguing this Thursday. That distinction belongs to Louisiana Tech-Western Kentucky, which features Jeff Driskel and Brandon Doughty.
Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky began 2015 popular picks to play in the Conference USA Championship Game, and neither did anything to dissuade the vote of confidence in Week 1. Tech thrashed Southern as it should, and Western Kentucky outlasted Vanderbilt.
However, their respective quarterbacks had much different opening weeks. Brandon Doughty, the nation’s leading passer in 2014, never broke out against a revamped Vanderbilt defense.
Driskel, on the other hand, put together college football’s most efficient Week 1. He logged a 321.44 efficiency rating, going 12-of-15 for 274 yards with four touchdowns. He rushed for a fifth, showing off the mobility that was once a celebrate trait of his.
Driskel was far more impressive in his Louisiana Tech than at any time in his tenure at Florida. Caliber of opponent probably had something to do with it, but so does sharing a backfield with running back Kenneth Dixon. Jeff Driskel’s best season at Florida was 2012, which was the only time the Gators had a 1,000-yard rusher (Mike Gillislee).
The threat of Dixon going off for a long touchdown is omnipresent, keeping opposing defenses wary of the rush to open the field. Louisiana Tech’s quarterback last season, Cody Sokol, flourished in the Bulldogs’ balanced offense.
The Iowa transfer had NFL opportunities following his breakout 2014, and credits his time in Ruston for reviving his career.
“I 100 percent owe it all to Louisiana Tech and all they’ve done for me,” he told Sean Isabella of The News Star.
Driskel has a similar opportunity, and Thursday night’s marquee matchup with Western Kentucky is a huge step toward reestablishing himself after a disappointing tenure in Gainesville.
He’ll have to out-duel Doughty, arguably the most celebrated Group of Five quarterback coming into the season. Doughty threw for an incredible 4,830 yards and 49 touchdowns in 2014, though his 2015 is off to a pedestrian start.
He went 19-of-30 for 209 yards with one score against Vanderbilt.
Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz pointed out in his weekly press conference Monday that while Louisiana Tech-Western Kentucky offers the Driskel-Doughty dynamic, there’s much more to Thursday’s matchup.
“They are not playing each other,” Holtz said. “They are playing the defense. Right now, their work is to prepare for what they are going to be going against.”
What Doughty’s going against is a defense that led the nation in takeaways a season ago, and one which dominated the high-flying Hilltoppers in their visit to Ruston.
Louisiana Tech hasn’t forgotten that.
— LA Tech Football (@LATechFB) January 28, 2015
Neither has Western Kentucky head coach Jeff Brohm.
“We’ve been watching a lot of video [of last year’s game],” he said in his weekly press conference. “They bring it from all over. They’ll check things [at the line of scrimmage] from the sidelines. They have answers to things that happen on the field. They answers to teams that go fast.”
Western Kentucky’s prolific passing attack is predicated on tempo, and Louisiana Tech’s tenacious pass-rush shut down the Hilltoppers’ tempo a year ago.
“[Doughty]’s looking forward to it,” Brohm said. “This was a game where he didn’t play up to par, but really of none us did.”
It’s only Sept. 10, but Western Kentucky’s C-USA East title aspirations may hinge on elevating its collective play against Tech this time around. The division’s reigning champion and likely other contender, Marshall, misses the Bulldogs on this year’s docket, instead drawing cross-divisional home games against North Texas and Southern Miss.
While Roethlisberger-Brady might have more clout, Jeff Driskel-Brandon Doughty has more at stake.