It's funny how we always say there's no juice in these games. Sad, almost. We're not going to get to watch this team suit up for 8 more months. That includes watching Leonard Fournette run the football.
I suggest we all try to enjoy that.
Bowl games are usually meaningless in the grand scheme, and we generally tend to give them too much weight in how we look at the offseason. That said, there's no question that LSU could use a victory and a little momentum entering the offseason. There's still a lot of uncertainty around this team and what will happen going forward. Will there be staff changes? How will underclassmen defections hurt the team? Nothing sets the stage for the next act quite like a ending the previous one on a high notes.
What to watch for in the Texas Bowl
Big things, small packages
The matchup with Texas Tech bodes very well for LSU's offense, but it could be a difficult one for the Tiger defense. Nobody has held Texas Tech under 26 points all season long, and they topped 35 nine times.
Kliff Kingsbury has taken bits and pieces of the Air Raid offense that he's played and coached in under multiple coaches and created a remarkably fast, efficient attack that has morphed almost into a triple-option type of attack.
The Red Raiders are fairly balanced in terms of run/pass, with a 43:57 ratio and DeAndre Washington's 1,400-plus rushing yards despite still throwing for more than 4,000 yards. They pull it off by taking the packaged concept that has become more and more common with spread teams and running it at a dramatically faster pace -- Tech averages 83 plays per game and rank fifth in adjusted pace.
A packaged play is, simply put, one that combines a run or zone-read type of play with a quick pass. The Red Raiders bring it up another level by pulling guards, tackles and using H-back leads in their packaged runs as well.
Packaging a run and a pass play works perfectly for up-tempo attacks because it allows the playcaller to keep things really basic. The same play can be called multiple times with different results, whether it's a straight handoff, a QB keeper or a pass. It also keeps thins remarkably simple for the quarterback by reducing many plays to a simple coverage read versus a progression. There's no first/second/third read, just a single player who determines the action of the play. A weakside linebacker cheats in on the run so you throw a slant behind him, or a safety bits and allows for a seamer. That isn't to say that Tech won't run many of the traditional Air-Raid plays like four verticals, Y-sail, etc..., but when they hit full-speed, they put the pressure on the defense to pick its own poison. Once they cheat too far one way, you can pop a big pay in the other direction.
LSU's best answer to this will be a very similar gameplan to what they did against Texas A&M, which is to simplify coverages and looks on early downs and then mix things up in obvious passing downs. Lots of man-to-man coverage, single-high safeties and numbers near the line of scrimmage to set up third and long, where you can disguise your looks a little bit more, force the quarterback to hold the ball and let the pass-rush do the rest.
In fact, to hear our friends at Viva the Matadors tell it, the teams that have had the most success at holding Tech down have done it at the line of scrimmage outside. Not inside with the defensive line, but with corners and nickel players getting strong jams on receivers and getting through blocks in the screen/quick game. Keep plays contained, make tackles, knock the Red Raiders off schedule and create obvious passing downs.
The X-factor is quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who ran for 601 yards and 10 touchdowns on top of his 32 passing scores. More man coverage could leave the defense vulnerable to scramble plays, so defensive linemen getting off blocks and pursuing with discipline will be crucial.
Run all night
Of course, when your defense allows 42 points per game, you kind of need your offense to be great. Texas Tech is by far the worst defense LSU has seen, dead last in S&P+ and allowing 6.69 yards per play. Including an astounding 271 rushing yards per game.
First-year defensive coordinator David Gibbs runs a bit of a combination over/under front style that almost mimics the classic 50 front with a weakside rush end and a SAM linebacker playing over the tight end. He's a coach that really emphasizes turnovers and stripping the ball, even at the cost of tackling on occasion, which fits the Big 12 well, but should be a mismatch against LSU's running game.
There's no reason for Fournette and Derrius Guice not to have a combined 35-40 touches in this one. Pound away at this undersized front and stay on schedule -- that's also the best way to help get Brandon Harris back on track as well. Tech would like to try and limit plays with a mix of cover three and two-deep looks, but that hasn't worked out that well in practice with 75 plays of 20 or more allowed, 113th nationally. Running the ball can set up good play-action opportunities, particularly on early downs. Again, very similar to the Texas A&M gameplan. The question really is just whether or not Harris can execute the throws. But they shouldn't need many.
What's more, that running game can also limit the exposure on the defensive side of the ball. If Tech can stall LSU's offense and work their tempo they will score points.
Do NOT Expect
Don't get me wrong, a win here would be great for LSU. But it doesn't change the problems that we saw surface this season, or reduce the need for some sort of energy infusion. Conversely, a loss, perception aside, doesn't necessarily cast some wide pall over the program. LSU will still finish well in recruiting and return one of the more experienced rosters in the SEC in 2016. This game won't change that.
But it could certainly help us feel better about it. That's something. Not a lot. But something.