The buzz began as soon as the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl matchup was finalized.
“He’s a phenomenal athlete, one of those once-in-a-generation-type backs,” Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “We’ll have our hands full trying to slow him down.”
That might be the understatement of the year.
The Tigers' star running back was a Heisman favorite until Alabama shut him down on Nov. 7. Nonetheless, Fournette finished the regular season with 1,741 rushing yards, averaging 6.42 yards per carry, with 18 rushing touchdowns. He rushed for at least 150 yards in eight games, finished with six games recording at least five runs of 10 yards or more and managed at least 50 rushing yards after contact in 10 of 12 games in 2015.
“He is a complete back,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “He can block you, he can catch the ball out of the backfield and he certainly has the ability to run. He runs with a good combination of size and speed. He is pretty special. He will have the opportunity to do a lot of things before he leaves here.”
And he’ll be going against a Red Raiders defense whose numbers against the running game are ugly:
Tech allowed 3,262 rushing yards, an average of 271.83 yards per game.
Tech allowed at least 300 rushing yards six times.
Tech allowed at least seven yards per carry on four different occasions, including a season-worst 8.4 yards per carry to Texas in its season finale.
Tech allowed 11 different players to rush for more than 100 yards against them, including a pair of runners in the same game twice -- against Oklahoma (Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon) and against West Virginia (Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell).
Tech allowed 1,262 rushing yards after contact, ranking ninth in the Big 12.
Tech allowed a Big 12-worst 2,000 rushing yards before contact.
Tech missed 147 tackles and averaged 12.3 missed tackles per game, ranking ninth in the Big 12.
Tech’s 17.1 missed tackle percentage was eighth in the Big 12, with only Kansas (18.2) and Kansas State (17.4) missing a higher percentage of tackles.
Those numbers, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information, make it clear asking the Red Raiders' run defense to shut down Fournette -- like Alabama did -- is fool’s gold.
Yet, the Red Raiders' approach in a 35-24 win at Arkansas on Sept. 19 provides a glimpse of how Kingsbury’s team, acting as a whole, could get the job done.
Against the Razorbacks, Tech’s offense ran a season-low 58 plays while significantly ramping down the tempo that is a trademark of its offensive attack. The offense was still productive and explosive -- averaging 3.89 points per drive and 8.38 yards per play -- but it was measured and deliberate during its lone meeting with an SEC foe during the regular season. Tech averaged 24.1 seconds between plays against Arkansas, a season high. Its season average was 19.9 seconds between plays. Against LSU, Kingsbury’s team could take a similar approach.
Nobody expects Texas Tech to stop Leonard Fournette. But, with the right approach and a plan to do it as a team instead of placing the burden on its defense, Tech could slow the star sophomore enough to leave Houston with a win.