BATON ROUGE, La. -- If LSU’s defenders could focus solely on stopping Texas Tech’s passing game, that alone would be a difficult-enough challenge.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, Texas Tech isn't bringing its traditional, one-dimensional “Air Raid” offense to the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl on Dec. 29. The Red Raiders still throw the ball 56 percent of the time, but they are more than effective at moving the ball on the ground -- as evidenced by All-Big 12 running back DeAndre Washington's 1,455 rushing yards and 6.5 yards per carry.
“They actually like to run the ball a lot more than we thought. Their running back I think has rushed for 1,500 yards this year,” LSU defensive tackle Christian LaCouture said the Red Raiders. “They’re more than capable of running the ball.”
The main challenge for the Tigers defense, however, will be containing quarterback Patrick Mahomes and a passing attack that ranks second nationally at 389.7 yards per game. Led by slot receiver Jakeem Grant (1,143 receiving yards, 95.3 ypg), the Red Raiders have six players with more than 300 receiving yards. In comparison, LSU has just two: Malachi Dupre (602 yards) and Travin Dural (533), and Dural will miss the bowl game with an injury.
“They spread the ball around. They don’t have just one specific guy,” cornerback Tre'Davious White said. “They have this tough guy [Grant] in the slot. ... He’s a little small guy, but man, they get him the ball in a lot of ways.”
Although coach Kliff Kingsbury’s scheme is comparable to what LSU’s defense fared well against in its 19-7 victory over Texas A&M on Nov. 28 -- after all, Kingsbury worked under A&M coach Kevin Sumlin with the Aggies and at Houston -- this will be a different animal. The Aggies had an up-and-down season on offense, but the measliest point total for Texas Tech in any game this season was 26 in a loss at West Virginia.
“I’ve got my hands full, the No. 2 scoring offense in the nation [46.6 points pger game]," White said. "They move the ball, they throw it a lot, so it should be fun for the defensive secondary."
Of particular concern for LSU in the bowl game will be contending with Tech’s offensive tempo. The Tigers have gradually used a deeper rotation along the defensive line this season, although they remain thin at end. Same at linebacker, where Kendell Beckwith and Deion Jones have played the vast majority of the snaps.
There were points this season where opponents’ up-tempo attacks caused LSU’s defense to falter in the second half, which is one of the main objectives of Tech’s approach.
“Conditioning comes into play and having enough bodies to rotate guys through is more important than it ever has been,” Kingsbury said last week at a pre-bowl news conference in Houston. “You can’t leave guys out there six, seven plays where teams are tempoing and playing fast. Having depth at that defensive-line position is more crucial than it ever has been in college football.”
Half of Texas Tech’s explosive plays (39 of its 81 that covered 20-plus yards) came in the second half of games. Some 60 percent of the explosive plays LSU’s defense surrendered this season (21 of 35) came in the third or fourth quarters.
“They’re going to come out, try to get big plays on us and things like that,” Beckwith said. “We’ve just got to be focused, be in tune to what we’re doing and get the job done.”
LSU’s defenders have dealt with tempo concerns against SEC opponents such as A&M and Auburn this season, and some of them have already faced a Kingsbury-led offense as Tigers. Senior Jalen Mills started in LSU’s 2012 win over A&M -- the lone season where Kingsbury served as the Aggies’ offensive coordinator -- when the Tigers picked off three Johnny Manziel passes and recovered two fumbles in a 24-19 victory.
By and large, defending Tech’s particular style of offense will be a brand-new experience for most of LSU’s players, which is part of what makes this bowl matchup intriguing.
“I know they’re known for throwing the ball, up-tempo team, but we’ve got to prepare for both [run and pass],” LaCouture said. “We’ve just got to keep affecting the quarterback, getting the backfield and making plays.”