UTEP Miners vs Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, 10/20/2018, 2:30pm
Final Score: Bulldogs 31 – Miners 24; Attendance: 18,972
Weather: Partly Cloudy, 64; Ticket: Free; Parking: Free
Review: “Nothing better to do?” by Tree
The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs play at Joe Aillet Stadium, or “The Joe” as it is affectionately called. It is a smallish stadium sitting on campus. Our tickets, thanks to a generous fan, were free. We saw no scalpers, primarily because the games rarely sell out. Walk up tickets were easily available. We sat on the 35 yard line, six rows up. They were pretty good seats and the single video scoreboard was serviceable. Fortunately, with the small stadium design, all seats can see the scoreboard. The end zones are closed off, but it really does not feel like a bowl. There really is not a bad seat in “The Joe” as far as I could tell. The seats were metal bleachers, although seatbacks were available for purchase for $10. The concessions were a surprising mix of franchise fare, Chick Fil A, McAlister’s, etc. While there were no fountain drinks, they still had souvenir cups which I got for free. I didn’t even have to buy a drink to go in it. Surprisingly, there’s no beer sold in the stadium which is unusual for a Louisiana stadium. They have both a mascot and real bulldog, Tech, who patrols the sidelines. I do like their uniforms. They are red, white and blue, very reminiscent of the old New England Patriots uniforms.
The fans were very friendly, but the stadium was fairly quiet. There were no noticeable cheers and the fans were not very loud. They do form a bulldog hand gesture by making a fist with the outside fingers forming the ears and the thumb strategically placed to represent the nose. As hand gestures go, it is respectable if not overly impressive. To pump up the crowd, the scoreboard played some completely forgettable video montages. The most unique thing I saw was when they threw Rice Krispie Treats into the stands during the third quarter. The general lack of enthusiasm was surprising considering that one tradition the Bulldogs have in spades is winning. The program has been successful at all levels and had just recently won four bowl games in a row from 2014 – 2017. It has produced a number of NFL players, most notably the blonde bomber, Terry Bradshaw.
La Tech (Note, just like Virginia Tech, they do not approve of the state abbreviation and as our host reminded me, no one refers to Texas Tech as T. Tech) is located in Ruston, Louisiana. It is about an hour east of Shreveport, or more accurately, just south of the middle of nowhere. I drove there from Houston and the drive was not unpleasant. Google said to fly into Monroe, but I bet the direct flights there are few and far between. Suffice it to say, it probably will not be easy to get to Ruston. The town itself was fairly cute, with a nice small college town vibe. Getting through town was easy. Parking could be a challenge as La Tech follows the small school model of allocating all the stadium lots to alums and season ticket holders. There is not much of an aftermarket for those parking passes, but if you plan early enough you might be able to snag one for about $25. The alternative is to get up early and grab one of the free tailgating spots next to the Thomas Assembly Center which sits directly across of “The Joe.” The official word is that you need to be there by 8am for a noon game. We arrived at 11:30 for a 2:30 game and got one of the last spots. It was a great environment with plenty of room to grill, play corn hole, and watch random games of touch football pop up. The fans there were great. They were friendly and generous, which seemed to be common traits of the denizens of Ruston. The only issue that I could see would be that the grass would become muddy in the rain. There was a very light rain during our visit and the area did become a bit sloppy. It wasn’t too bad if you were in shoes, but the majority of the Bulldog Homecoming court struggled to stay upright in their high heels as they walked through the grove. I smiled when I saw one of the tailgating moms sporting some fancy black wellies (rubber boots) that matched her fall tailgate outfit. I pointed her out to my son, noting that with age comes wisdom.
UTEP came in ranked number one in the bottom ten with a record of 0-6. Louisiana Tech was 4-2 so it seemed likely that this game would be over by halftime. Indeed, we were planning on it as we were going to split as soon as Tech had things in hand so we could catch another game in Monroe. The Miners, however, had other things in mind. The Bulldogs scored first on a pick six, but UTEP responded an 80 yard, 6 play drive to tie it back up. Not to be outdone, Tech then scored in three plays to go up 14-7. The game then settled into a punters duel with seven drives in a row ending on a kick. Finally, Tech managed to string together a drive long enough to hit a field goal to end the half. The score was still competitive at 17 -7 and we settled in to watch the Homecoming festivities knowing there was still a lot of football left to be played. UTEP received the second half kickoff and promptly drove down and scored. I looked fitfully at my watch recognizing that my Louisiana Monroe experience was going to be short-changed. A Bulldog fan was kind enough to note that we weren’t missing anything there. They may not be direct rivals because they are in different conferences, but it is clear that the two schools do not like each other. A couple of drives later, Tech scored a touchdown to up their led by 10 again. They could not put away the Miners though because the Bulldogs responded with a touchdown on their next drive. It was a common theme by the Tech offense as their next drive went backwards for 3 plays and seven yards. It was the second such drive in the game.
Conventional football wisdom says the longer you let a lesser team hang around the more inspired they become. This was certainly the case in this game, as UTEP tied the game up again with a field goal. Fortunately, the Bulldogs were more resilient than a Cleveland Browns fan. They scored again with a long drive but by now UTEP was playing with confidence. At that point, you would have thought that “The Joe” would be rocking. It was not. I had to double check to see if I was at a football game or a chess tournament. What was impressive was the UTEP QB, Brandon Jones, who was literally running for his life most of the game from Tech’s stud defensive lineman, Jaylon Ferguson. Ferguson was leading the nation in sacks coming in and he had two more against the Miners to keep his number one status. Nonetheless, the Miners had a multiple chances to punch it in from inside the ten in the waning minutes of the game but could not finish. The Tech faithful let out a sigh of relief because no one wanted to lose the homecoming game to the worst team in FBS.
I had fairly low expectations coming into this game. The tailgating and the fans prior to the game greatly exceeded them. While I didn’t get to spend much time on campus, I learned of a cool tradition they have for graduates. Each graduate gets their name in a brick in a walkway through the campus. In addition, we came across multiple generations of alumni and there seems to be a great deal of pride in the program. Unfortunately it did not translate over to the game atmosphere. I don’t mind an easy going relaxed tailgate. I do, however, much prefer a loud and raucous crowd for my football games. Given that, it is hard to give an outright positive recommendation to catch a game at Louisiana Tech. The surrounding area does not have much to offer either. The people are friendly for sure and the football is likely to be good if not great. It is also an affordable experience. It was one of the cheapest days I have had in a long time. Despite all that, the total package does not warrant a special trip. I guess if your team is playing the Bulldogs and you don’t have anything better to do, it wouldn’t be the worst way to spend the weekend.