The story of LSU’s hectic 2021 football season has still not been completed but the final chapter will be written Tuesday night in Houston’s NRG Stadium as the Tigers take on Kansas State in the Texas Bowl.
We can debate whether or not this game means anything or indeed if any bowl that’s not a CFP semifinal game means anything, but what can’t be debated is this: LSU’s rolling into Houston with a depleted roster and there’s a chance if you’re reading this you, yes YOU!, may be called upon to play corner Tuesday night.
Speaking of Tuesday night, let’s look ahead to the Texas Bowl and get the lowdown on the Wildcats. LSU and K-State haven’t gotten together since 1980, so to get us up to speed on the Cats, we’re joined by JT VanGilder of our sister site bringonthecats.com.
1. First off can you give us a quick summary on K-State? Who are these Cats, how did we get to this point?
The Wildcats have had an interesting year, and have pretty much gone the way of starting QB Skylar Thompson. He returned for his 6th season on his free “COVID year”, and when #7 is healthy, K-State can win a lot of ball games: K-State is 6-2 when Skylar starts. But without him, it gets painful quickly: K-State is just 1-3 when #7 doesn’t play. It got bad enough that Chris Klieman fired his offensive coordinator (literally his best friend since childhood) after the collapse against Texas to end the season, when the Cats could only muster 17 points without Thompson against a leaky UT defense (heck, they gave up 57 to Kansas, the worst FBS team in the country). If Thompson had stayed healthy, K-State is likely at least 9-3 at this point and would’ve already played their bowl game. The good news for K-State is that Skylar is again healthy, and ready to go for the Texas Bowl.
2. LSU’s going to be playing either a true freshman or a wide receiver at quarterback so...not ideal! What part of the Kansas State defense are you confident in? What concerns you?
K-State hasn’t been spectacular on the defensive side, but they have been very solid, and have been much better in the second half of the season. In what could be very dangerous for a freshman (or a wide receiver), the strength of the K-State defense is up front, and the Cats have been able to get lots of pressure with a 3-man front that often brings just those three on the rush. Felix Anudike-Uzomah has been a beast, and has required consistent double-teams since he broke out with his 6* sack performance against TCU (the NCAA only counts him having 4 that game, because two of the forced-fumbles bounced past the line of scrimmage before they were recovered by K-State; we’re still bitter). Whoever is at QB for LSU will have to deal with that tough rush, and will either need to get the ball out quickly, or be comfortable moving the pocket or running with the ball.
3. We know Deuce Vaugh is awesome. Vaughn’s got just over 1700 yards of offense and 18 touchdowns. For the LSU defense is it as simple as “stop 22” or are there other weapons that can be relied upon?
Stopping Vaughn has been a problem for even really good teams, so good luck with that. But if you can do it, then yeah, it really limits what the Cats can do on offense. The two running backs right behind him on the depth chart have transferred, and those are really the only defections the Cats have had that hurt, at least for the bowl game, because Joe Ervin was a really solid replacement that was similar to Vaughn, yet still enough different to be a “change of pace” guy, and allowed the staff to flex Vaughn out wide to get him open. But with Skylar Thompson back healthy, it does open the passing game back up, and after his early knee injury, he’s become remarkably better at being a pocket passer, and having a passing game outside of Vaughn has been very helpful (even if he’s also the leading receiver).
4. LSU fans will certainly be in Houston, how strong of a contingent will Kansas State have?
K-State fans are known for traveling well, and that should be no different this year, especially a year after missing out on a bowl game. K-State fans want to win this game, and Houston is decently close to both Kansas (it’s driveable from Manhattan and Kansas City), and K-State second-largest pod of alumni in Dallas. There was some grumbling about K-State playing in this game back in 2016, and really wanting to go to Orlando, but I don’t think the K-State athletic department had trouble selling out their allotment.
5. Finally, which way are you leaning Tuesday? And what would a win mean for the Wildcats going into 2022?
I know I’ve heard that LSU is actually interested in this game and wants to win, but K-State has significantly more depth and is actually getting players back headed to the game instead of losing more. I expect it to be close early, before K-State finally wears down the Tigers. Probably something like 31-20, Wildcats.