LAFAYETTE — Preparing a team to slow down Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon is a little like trying to catch a bullet between the teeth — except there’s three or four bullets to worry about.
Take away the perimeter, fine, Dixon is a beast between the tackles. Stuff the middle of the field, and Dixon’s speed will beat you to the edge. Bring eight defenders up in the box, well, Dixon’s an accomplished pass catcher, too.
There are so many “ands” to Dixon’s game. He’s physical and fast and elusive and competitive and he possesses great hands and even better vision. Find a box, Dixon’s checked it. There’s a reason, four games into his senior season, that he’s racked up 68 career touchdowns.
“It’s hard (to prepare for),” said Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth. “He’s a fun player to watch on film. Scary, but fun. He can run it inside, he can bounce it outside, he can catch it out of the backfield and he runs very strong. A very physical runner, a very good player.”
Dixon certainly put all that on display last season against the Cajuns, when he torched them for 184 yards and two scores on the ground — one of which he took for 99 yards as he punished the Cajuns for a defender taking the wrong gap.
At that point in the season, sophomore safety Tracy Walker still hadn’t worked his way into the rotation. But from what he remembers from watching on the sideline, and from what he’s seen on game tape, Walker is convinced his team is preparing for a runner that will be on a professional roster next year.
“He’s NFL-ready,” Walker said. “He definitely exceeds any other running back we’ve ever played. We’re going into this game eyeing him. As you can see, he runs hard. He breaks tackles, he runs the ball physically.”
So how do the Cajuns plan to slow him down?
It starts with the understanding that, despite the gaudy stats and the eye-popping highlights, Dixon is a college football player, not Superman. To go into the game thinking otherwise is a recipe for failure.
“He’s an athlete, but at the same time, he’s a football player just like we are,” Walker said. “We all strap up our gear just like he does.”
That’s the mental battle the Cajuns face. The Cajuns hope to win the physical battle by deploying strength in numbers.
This is the goal every game, Walker said. Take a look at great defenses, and typically the play results with five, six, seven players around the ball. The swarm mentality, while not always easy to enact, is essential in bringing all-purpose runners like Dixon to the turf.
“Our job, everybody’s got to run to the ball this week like we should every week,” Walker said. “We’ve just got to tackle him, that’s the main objective this week.”
Through four games, Dixon is off to the best start of what has been a stellar career. He’s picked up 524 yards on just 73 carries — a 7.2 yards per carry average — and has found paydirt five times.
He’s tacked on another 154 yards and two scores through the air, putting him on pace for more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 21 touchdowns in the regular season.
But the thing that really stands out to Hudspeth about Dixon — the unexpected tool in his Swiss Army knife arsenal — is the way he rallies his teammates.
That quality is something Hudspeth wants his own players to pick up on when they watch Dixon play.
“He is that guy that throws his team on his shoulders and says ‘Giddy up,’ ” Hudspeth said. “There’s a lot of great running backs out there and he’s one of them, but what makes him great is he’s a leader and he don’t mind being a leader.
“That’s what I’m trying to get across to some of our guys and that’s some of the things we’re lacking is a couple players saying, ‘Hey, get on my shoulders and let’s ride.’ I think that’s what he brings to that team.”