Texas Tech fans and players should probably be asking for a Christmas present to come a few days late. The wish? Stop LSU’s Leonard Fournette from running all afternoon in the Texas Bowl on December 29.
Maybe that’s a stretch to think only wishful thinking can stop the highly touted sophomore running back, but it seems to be the general consensus that Fournette is going to run for over 300 yards on a defense that has allowed over 300 yards rushing on six occasions this season. The catch is that those games have been against run by committee teams, giving the Red Raiders less of a chance to latch on to one player — let alone have nearly a month of preparation to pick up on team and player tendencies.
Of course, that blade cuts both ways as LSU has been prepping for Tech the past few weeks as well. But there has been some small precedent this season of the Red Raiders stopping teams that rely more on a single back. Not to Fournette’s level of play, but the theory remains the same.
Tech stopped Kansas State’s Chris Jones from surpassing 100 yards and also limited its run-first quarterback from making much of a dent in its defense. Joe Hubener’s three touchdowns were exclusively one-yard runs, driving up the score more than watching the game would indicate.
But the best single back the Red Raiders faced was in SEC country, taking on Arkansas with 1,000-yard rusher Alex Collins. Seeing him run for 170 yards and six yards per carry was hardly flattering — it was one of his best marks of the season — but in the grand scheme of the game, his accomplishments went unnoticed.
Kliff Kingsbury’s fast offense turned down the tempo to better match Bret Bielema’s slow-burn team, winning 35-24 in Fayetteville.
Considering Arkansas’ SEC roots, that game is one of the best indicators of how Tech can face LSU’s rushing attack. Tech ran a season-low 58 plays against Arkansas’ 61 plays from scrimmage. According to ESPN’s Brandon Chatmon, Tech’s average time between snaps was 24.1 seconds, almost 20 percent slower than their season average. Had Kingsbury pushed the pace to his team’s season average, Tech would have had the ball just 18 minutes barring any other factors giving Arkansas a chance to keep climbing the board along with Pat Mahomes’ gunslinging.
Kingsbury’s offensive schemes are explosive enough on their own, so the Red Raiders don’t need to play at blurring speed.
This is not a Big 12 matchup where Baylor and the like will exchange shots at a rapid pace. This is a LSU team that runs just 67 plays per game and maintains possession for the majority of the game. If Tech can keep the clock rolling with the Big 12’s leading rusher, DeAndre Washington, and bring out new trick plays Kingsbury seems to always come up with (like Jakeem Grant’s run against Texas), the Red Raiders won’t have to worry as much about containing Fournette.
But should that fail and Tech decides to turn up the dial on offense, it’s a slippery slope.
The best overall running attack the Red Raiders faced was against Oklahoma, which ran for over 400 yards with Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon getting their fair share of touches. Perine ran for four touchdowns thanks to his bruising power while his freshman counterpart scampered for two additional scores.
Together, they make up the ability Fournette possesses as an all-around back.
Fournette can slice and dice defenses with ease and was only caught up against Alabama’s premier defense.
Texas Tech can’t match that talent, but with the right strategy to get into the backfield early, there’s a chance the defense can help turn the ball over, which would then allow the offense to continue to milk the clock. Then, hit LSU with a dagger (or two) in the end zone.
Tech’s defense is predicated on turnovers — mostly interceptions, but LSU is hardly a passing team with Brandon Harris under center. There are four Red Raiders with two forced fumbles this season, with tackles for loss leader Peter Robertson leading the way. Overall, Tech’s defense has forced 13 fumbles and its opponents have fumbled six additional times, recovering 10 total.
Conversely, the Tigers have lost just four fumbles this season. They’re a tough team to crack.
But if all goes according to plan as it did in the Red Raiders’ first SEC battle, there won’t be much need to jar the ball loose.
Milk the clock. Score. Repeat.
And Fournette and company won’t be setting any anticipated bowl records (or get the win for that matter).