Christian LaCouture didn’t have to watch much film before he noticed something odd about Texas Tech.
The Red Raiders, LSU’s Texas Bowl opponent, are known for their up-tempo, pass-happy offense engineered by 4,000-yard passer Patrick Mahomes. Under coach Kliff Kingsbury, Tech’s high-powered system has produced the No. 2 scoring, passing and total offense in the country this season.
But when LaCouture turned on the tape, he discovered another element of the Red Raiders attack, one he and his teammates didn’t expect to see.
“They actually like to run the ball a lot more than we thought,” the junior defensive tackle said. “The running back, I think, has rushed for 1,500 yards this year. They’re more than capable of running the ball just as they are throwing it, so we have to prepare for both.”
LaCouture wasn’t far from the mark. Senior running back DeAndre Washington has 1,455 rushing yards, 12th-most nationally, and averages 6.5 yards per carry. While Mahomes and his array of speedy receivers spell a challenge for the Tigers’ inconsistent secondary, Washington will test the defensive front when No. 22 LSU (8-3) and Texas Tech (7-5) clash at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 29 in Houston’s NRG Stadium.
In his first meeting with reporters following the announcement of bowl pairings, LSU coach Les Miles called the Red Raiders offense “diverse.” LaCouture suggested Tech passes about 60 to 65 percent of the time, but it actually threw on only 56.3 percent of its plays this season.
Balanced or not, Washington’s 121.25 rushing yards per game are enough to keep defenses guessing.
“They can hand it (off); the back is fast,” Miles said. “He gets to the seam quickly and comes out the other side.”
At 5-foot-8 and 200 pounds, Washington is stocky but capable of quick bursts. The Associated Press first-team All-Big 12 running back’s blend of size and quickness, LaCouture said, has the Tigers putting a premium on proper tackling.
“He’s a guy that really likes to get downhill, and he doesn’t really bounce around,” LaCouture said. “He uses his speed to his advantage, and we feel like we’ve got to wrap up. If we do that, I think we’ll be OK.”
LSU faced several tests from spread rushing attacks this year and passed nearly every one. The Tigers’ eight spread-oriented opponents averaged only 96.3 rushing yards against them, and no single running back in those systems managed a 100-yard outing. Western Kentucky’s Anthony Wales, Eastern Michigan’s Darius Jackson and Texas A&M’s Tra Carson — three of the nation’s top 50 rushers — combined for only 190 yards against LSU’s front seven.
Players compared Tech to Ole Miss and Texas A&M, two spread rushing attacks the Tigers held below their average output. LaCouture chalked up LSU’s success against spread running backs to efficient communication and understanding of the defensive scheme.
“We make sure we know our roles and execute,” he said. “We always make sure when we go out there that we don’t do anybody else’s job. Just do your job, and it’ll take care of itself.”
But Tech’s running game is more than just Washington: Mahomes is second on the team with 484 yards and 10 scores. And Kingsbury finds a way to get carries for his receivers, most notably 5-7 senior Jakeem Grant.
With two touchdowns on just eight rushing attempts this season, Grant’s sideline-to-sideline speed complements Washington’s downhill running style.
“They’ve got this tough guy in the slot, (Grant), a small guy,” junior cornerback Tre’Davious White said. “But, man, they can get him the ball in a lot of ways.”
LSU hasn’t faced a Big 12 team since defeating TCU in the 2013 season opener, but Tech traded blows with a Southeastern Conference foe earlier this year. The Red Raiders upended Arkansas 35-24 on Sept. 19 behind an unusual strategy for a Kingsbury-coached team.
Tech scrapped its hurry-up scheme for a slower, more methodical approach that resulted in only 58 offensive plays, 25 fewer than its season average and its lowest mark of the season by far.
“They get lined up, they get it going quickly and they can decide to snap it and go,” Miles said. “Or they can take time. They have different tempos.”
Despite the change of pace, the Red Raiders still amassed 486 yards (171 on the ground) against the Razorbacks, who handed the Tigers a 31-14 loss Nov. 14. Tech called 27 runs against 31 passes, with Washington and Mahomes splitting carries almost evenly. Grant got involved, too: He threw a 72-yard touchdown strike.
Junior linebacker Kendell Beckwith acknowledged the Red Raiders present a different test than most SEC teams do, and LSU’s defenders are well aware there’s more to Tech than its potent passing game.
“As a defense, we look forward to the challenge,” Beckwith said. “We know they’re going to come out and try to get big plays on us. We just have to get focused and be in tune with what we’re doing and get the job done.”