Senior linebacker Deion Jones was just happy to get a breather.
The deflected pass fell into the waiting hands of junior safety Rickey Jefferson, who snagged the interception on the goal line. The turnover gave LSU’s winded defense a reprieve from Texas Tech’s up-tempo aerial assault, but, more importantly, it provided the Tigers with enough fuel to outscore the opposition 28-7 over the final 20-plus minutes of the Texas Bowl on Tuesday night.
“That was big. It was a great play by Rickey keeping the ball alive after (junior cornerback Tre’Davious White) made a good breakup,” Jones said. “I think I really needed that one. I was getting a little winded.”
LSU’s usual playmakers were out in full force in Houston, but a pair of unlikely heroes made two of the biggest plays during the Tigers’ 56-27 win against the Red Raiders (7-6). Jefferson, along with little-used sophomore receiver DJ Chark, came up with a game-changing turnover and the most explosive touchdown of the night, respectively. Chark’s moment came first, and on the first touch of his LSU career, to boot.
Sprung by two blocks on the outside, the sophomore took an end-around for a 79-yard touchdown in the waning moments of the first quarter to give the Tigers (9-3) a two-score advantage. The score came one offensive play after Tech narrowed the it to 7-6 after a touchdown and failed 2-point conversion.
LSU coach Les Miles said he “saw the opportunity for a speed play,” and Chark made the most of his opportunity.
“It felt great. It’s something that I’ve been dreaming about since I was a little kid,” he said. “When coach called my number and I went out there, I knew there was only one thing I had to do, and that was go for the score.”
After drawing rave reviews from Miles and teammates during spring practice last year, Chark played sparingly in only four games this season. Jefferson’s season took a different trajectory. Pressed into service as a starting safety due to senior Jalen Mills’ injury in preseason camp, the junior delivered big hits from the secondary early in the year. But as the season wore on, Jefferson tumbled down the depth chart as players like sophomore John Battle and junior Corey Thompson saw increased playing time.
Jefferson started Tuesday night for only the second time in the final five games this year. He, however, picked off Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes as the Red Raiders were in the red zone and poised to cut into LSU’s 8-point lead. Jefferson said his interception was more than just being in the right place at the right time.
“I saw the quarterback give a call over to their receiver,” he said. “I told (White) they were coming his way and I had middle coverage. I just leaned over to that side and made a play on the ball.”
Fournette by the numbers
The records Leonard Fournette didn’t break this season are safe — for now.
The running back’s breakout sophomore year, during which he achieved numerous program and Southeastern Conference high marks, has come to an end. But in his final outing of 2015, Fournette added even more accomplishments to his proverbial trophy case.
Fournette tied the program single-game touchdown record by notching five total scores (four rushing, one receiving) against Texas Tech. He joined former running back Kevin Faulk (1997) and receiver Carlos Carson (1977) as the only players in LSU history to do so.
The sophomore’s five touchdowns tied the NCAA bowl game record, and he set new Texas Bowl marks by scoring 30 points and amassing 256 yards of total offense. Fournette also on Tuesday surpassed Herschel Walker’s SEC single-season rushing record of 1,891 yards established back in 1981, though Alabama running back Derrick Henry set the new record this year.
Henry, the Heisman Trophy winner, has played two more games than Fournette.
His 212-yard bowl performance further cushioned his lead as the NCAA rushing leader, which is determined by yards per game. Fournette now stands at 162.75 rushing yards per contest, and he may become the first SEC back to lead the nation in rushing since 1949.
Fournette the QB
Fournette owed sophomore receiver Malachi Dupre an apology.
On LSU’s fourth offensive snap of the Texas Bowl, the running back took a toss off right tackle and displayed one of the few skills he hadn’t flashed this season — a pass.
Fournette’s pass was way behind Dupre, but it drew a defensive pass interference penalty that set up the Tigers’ opening score. LSU’s first three plays were all handoffs to Fournette, one of which went for an explosive 35-yard gain.
“I was so tired, that’s why I threw the ball like that,” Fournette said of his errant pass to Dupre. “I apologized to him about that. It should have been a touchdown, but I’ll get it back to him.”
The running back occasionally aligned as a quarterback in the Tigers’ Wildcat formation this season but never attempted a pass before Tuesday. Fournette said he sometimes lines up at quarterback and throws the ball during practice.
LSU improved to 24-22-1 in bowl games. … This season marked the first time in school history an LSU offense accounted for more than 3,000 rushing yards (3,089) and more than 2,000 passing yards (2,158) in the same year.