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Leonard Fournette biggest test yet for Texas Tech's run defense

LSU's Leonard Fournette will face a Texas Tech defense that has allowed four players to rush for more than 200 yards in a game this season. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU coach Les Miles obviously hadn’t watched much of Texas Tech’s defense when he met with reporters on Sunday night.

That’s understandable -- Miles certainly had much more on his mind lately, prior to learning that the Tigers would face the Red Raiders in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl on Dec. 29 -- but Miles didn’t have much to offer when asked about Tech’s struggles against the run.

"I just watched the start of the [Nov. 26] Texas game and that defense played awfully hard in that game," Miles said. "I don’t think it will be any issue with our players watching that game in recognizing that this is a very capable defense and we will have to play well."

Do you know how that game ended? Texas Tech won 48-45, but it surrendered 48 carries for 403 yards (8.4 ypc) and six rushing touchdowns. Texas' Chris Warren ran 25 times for 276 yards and four touchdowns and quarterback Tyrone Swoopes added another 98 rushing yards and two scores.

In other words, that’s right in LSU’s run-heavy wheelhouse.

No. 20 LSU (8-3) hasn’t been much to write home about on offense this season, but its matchup against Texas Tech (7-5) seems awfully favorable for former Heisman Trophy front-runner Leonard Fournette.

Although he was not named as one of three Heisman Trophy finalists on Monday, Fournette remains the FBS rushing leader at 158.3 yards per game. Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury knows his defense that ranks 125th against the run (271.8 ypg) will face its greatest challenge yet in its bowl appearance.

"He’s a phenomenal athlete, one of those once-in-a-generation-type backs," Kingsbury said of Fournette.

No kidding. Texas Tech has allowed four players to rush for more than 200 yards in a game this season: Texas' Warren (25-276), Iowa State’s Mike Warren (23-245), Baylor’s Shock Linwood (20-221) and Oklahoma's Samaje Perine (23-201). That was a specialty of Fournette’s in the first month of the season, although his 159 yards in the regular-season finale against Texas A&M represented his best rushing performance since totaling 180 yards against Florida on Oct. 17.

Nonetheless, LSU’s superstar sophomore will clearly be the No. 1 player to watch in the bowl matchup.

Perhaps the biggest question is how much he will touch the ball during the Tigers’ postseason appearance.

Miles said Sunday that the Tigers will begin making some of the changes that he has acknowledged as necessary while they prepare for their final game of this season.

"This would be a time where you would look at change, and not necessarily a widespread, complete [overhaul], but tweak things a little bit to make yourself more productive," Miles said.

With Fournette leading the way, the Tigers are 10th nationally in rushing offense (245.9 ypg), but they have frequently struggled to move the ball through the air. They are 110th nationally in passing offense (173.1 ypg), 52nd in total offense (419 ypg) and 53rd in scoring (30.7 ppg).

Miles said Sunday that he is "contemplating no changes at this point in personnel" on his coaching staff, but the bowl game would be a good time to prove that this staff is still capable of becoming more productive.

Perhaps that will simply mean riding the running game against a defense that has proven ineffective against talented rushers so far this season.

"We’ll have our hands full trying to slow him down," Kingsbury said.