The Next Level:
Late in a game against Texas earlier this season, Texas Tech lined up in a bunched formation as if the Red Raiders planned to kneel the ball and run out the clock.
Less than three minutes remained, and Tech led Texas by three points. The Red Raiders didn’t kneel the ball on that first-and-10.
Instead, versatile receiver/return man Jakeem Grant ran for a 40-yard touchdown on a well-designed trick play.
Grant, squatting next to quarterback Patrick Mahomes at the snap, outmaneuvered three Texas players for the game-sealing score, racing around left end.
The point here: Grant is a speedy, athletic weapon Tech uses in a variety of ways — someone the Tigers must slow Tuesday night in the Texas Bowl.
Grant leads the team in receptions (80), receiving yards (1,143) and TD catches (seven), and he averages 26.6 yards per kickoff return, which is good enough to rank 21st nationally.
Grant, 5-foot-7 and 168 pounds, does his most damage as a slot receiver. That has been a bugaboo for LSU and a secondary ranked 50th nationally — the worst ranking for that highly respected unit since back in 2008.
Teams scored six touchdowns on busted coverages in the final nine games of the season against the Tigers. There were eight total coverage busts — one in each game starting with LSU’s win over Syracuse and ending with the loss at Ole Miss. A slot receiver caught passes on at least three of those eight coverage busts, and two more were caught by tight ends.
LSU’s pass coverage struggles resulted in secondary shuffling. Jalen Mills, who missed the first five games of the season, replaced Dwayne Thomas as the nickelback covering the slot receiver.
Corey Thompson, hampered by injury earlier in the year, usurped Rickey Jefferson as the starting safety recently, and true freshmen Kevin Toliver and Donte Jackson have occupied the cornerback position opposite Tre’Davious White in a rotating role lately.
So who will get Grant?
“They move him around,” White said.
1. Band on the run
Call it predictable if you will, but there is little doubt LSU should feed Texas Tech a steady diet of its power running game. The Tigers need to limit the amount of time the Red Raiders’ top-ranked passing offense can touch the ball. Besides, handing the rock to Leonard Fournette, who is 259 yards shy of 2,000, is never a bad idea.
2. Don’t sleep on ...
The primal fear of Texas Tech’s offense is its passing game. But LSU has more to fear in Tech’s run game than Tech has to worry about LSU’s ability to pass. Red Raiders tailback DeAndre Washington is 12th in the FBS with 1,455 rushing yards. QB Patrick Mahomes, despite a lingering knee issue, has netted 484 yards on the ground as well.
3. Point break
Only Auburn and Alabama failed to complete at least one pass of 30-plus yards on the Tigers. That said, Texas Tech will be handicapped by the suspension of second-leading receiver Devin Lauderdale. If LSU’s corners can constrict Tech’s outside WRs, the Tigers could bring a lot of pressure on leading WR Jakeem Grant.
4. Special report
LSU’s kickoff and punt coverage teams showed marked improvement in the Tigers’ past two contests, not allowing a return over 20 yards against Ole Miss or Texas A&M. LSU needs to be on its game again against Texas Tech, though. Grant averages 26.6 yards per return and has scored two touchdowns on kickoffs.