- Associated Press - Friday, August 15, 2014

RUSTON, La. (AP) - Coach Skip Holtz won four games in first season at Louisiana Tech in 2013 and the prospects for improvement this fall are far from certain.

Much will depend on the production of a few key transfer players, the return to health of Tech’s top running back and whether the defense responds well to new coordinator Manny Diaz.

Iowa transfer Cody Sokol is in the mix at quarterback, while the receiving game is expected to get a boost from LSU transfer Paul Turner. Running back Kenneth Dixon, who scored 28 touchdowns as a freshman in 2012 before knee injuries sidetracked his sophomore season, will again be expected to lead the ground game.

Holtz will get his first chance to see what kind of difference his Year 2 changes have made when the Bulldogs open their season at Oklahoma on Aug. 30.

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Here are five things to watch at Louisiana Tech in 2014:

QB QUESTIONS: Sokol is competing for the starting QB job with Ryan Higgins, a part-time starter last season. “It is a heck of a battle right now,” Holtz said. “It is just who is going to play error-free football and who is going to give this team the best chance to win. Right now, I think we have a much better option than we did a year ago with both of them. Ryan Higgins has improved tremendously from a year ago, but I think Cody Sokol has really come in as a fifth-year senior, a graduate who is really looking for the opportunity to play.”

DIAZ’ D: Diaz, a former defensive coordinator at Texas under former Longhorns coach Mack Brown, has six returning starters to work with, but they were also part of a unit that allowed averages of around 408 yards and 26 points. Diaz could also benefit from the arrival of Illinois transfer Houston Bates, who can play linebacker or defensive end and should bolster the pass rush.

RUSHING TANDEM: When Dixon burst onto the scene as a freshman, he was part of an offense that averaged 51 points per game under previous head coach Sonny Dykes, who has since taken his wide-open attack to California. Dixon’s production was expected to dip under the more conservative Holtz, but banged up knees didn’t help. He played in 10 games and still nearly ran for 917 yards, but only four TDs. Fellow running back Tevin King added 582 yards and a TD rushing. If Dixon and King stay healthy and have better blocking, the Bulldogs should be able to move the ball.

LINE ITEMS: Holtz also has praised the job assistant coach Matt Moore has done overhauling the offensive line, which gave up 30 sacks, and then lost two starters from last season. “There is not a coach on this staff that has had a harder rebuilding process than he has with the offensive line,” Holtz said. “When you start to look at it, a majority of those names have all been recruited in the last year.”

BACKFIELD BACK: Holtz expects his defensive backfield, which includes five players who started last season, will solidify the defense as a whole. The back end of the defense is “really critical for us right now,” Holtz said. “All that experience is going to play huge.”