BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU finally snapped its three-game losing streak and Les Miles saved his job in the regular-season finale against Texas A&M. Now that things have settled down a bit, No. 20 LSU (8-3) can focus on high-scoring Texas Tech (7-5) in what should be a fascinating clash of styles.
LSU will have its difficulties slowing down the Red Raiders’ passing attack, while Tigers running back Leonard Fournette will attempt to join Alabama’s Derrick Henry as players who eclipsed Herschel Walker’s SEC single-season rushing record this year. Fournette needs 150 yards to get to Walker’s previous record and 259 to crack the 2,000-yard mark this season.
Here is an early look at some matchups and storylines to watch when the Tigers and Red Raiders meet in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl on Dec. 29:
Best individual matchup: LSU might not isolate any one defensive back on inside receiver Jakeem Grant, but nickelback Jalen Mills could get the first crack against the explosive senior. The 5-foot-6 Grant is far from the prototypical NFL receiver build, but he is fully capable of giving the Tigers problems as a wideout and kick returner. He leads the Red Raiders with 1,143 receiving yards and has caught, thrown and rushed for touchdowns this season. Texas Tech has a boatload of productive receivers, but Grant is the scariest of the bunch.
Key question for LSU: Can LSU score enough to beat a Texas Tech team that ranks second nationally with an average of 46.6 points per game? Largely because of inefficient play from the quarterback and offensive line, the Tigers’ offense struggled mightily in November, scoring just 16.5 points per game. It will help that Fournette (1,741 rushing yards, 18 TDs) will be running against a Texas Tech defense that is legitimately one of the worst in the country (125th with 271.8 yards allowed per game). But the Tigers might need more than just another great individual effort from Fournette to keep up with Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. They’ll need quarterback Brandon Harris and the offensive line to return to their midseason form.
Storyline to watch: Fournette will certainly get most of the headlines entering this game, but he will not be the only outstanding running back on display. Texas Tech’s Deandre Washington (1,455 rushing yards, 14 TDs) gives his offense a balance that we don’t always expect to see from a wide-open attack like the one the Red Raiders run. If Washington is able to find success against an LSU defense that ranks 24th against the run (131.5 yards per game), it will make defending the Red Raiders that much more difficult for Kevin Steele’s bunch.
LSU will win if : The Tigers have to limit explosive plays and perhaps create a turnover or two against Texas Tech’s prolific offense. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes (336-517, 4,283 yards, 32 TDs, 14 INTs) has had an outstanding season, but his 14 interceptions are tied for seventh most in the FBS. However, the Tigers have picked off only nine passes this year, which is tied for 78th. LSU’s pass defense has been a disappointment this season, and the Tigers will have their hands full against Mahomes & Co. If they can limit the damage in the passing game, they have to like their chances.
LSU will lose if : A weekly question down the stretch was which Harris would show up at quarterback. The sophomore performed well in the first half of the season and was phenomenal in a 35-28 win against then-unbeaten Florida, but Harris was a wreck for much of November. If Cam Cameron can get him rolling early in this game against a subpar Texas Tech defense, LSU stands a much better chance of victory. If Harris continues with the scattershot passing performances that he gave against a couple of late opponents -- like in the regular-season finale against Texas A&M (7-for-21, 83 yards, one INT) -- LSU could have difficulty winning.