HOUSTON —At times during the Texas Bowl on Tuesday night, Texas Tech’s offense looked like its usual self.
The Red Raiders, ranked No. 1 in passing offense and No. 2 in scoring offense nationally, orchestrated two 90-yard scoring drives to keep within striking distance of No. 22 LSU. Every now and then, coach Kliff Kingsbury’s up-tempo attack picked up yardage in chunks as his speedy receivers found holes in the Tigers secondary.
But when it mattered most, LSU’s inconsistent defense stood tall against the toughest test this season.
Behind a relentless pass rush, the Tigers (9-3) held Tech (7-6) below its per-game averages in passing yards, total yards and points in route to a 56-27 win. Though Red Raiders’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes occasionally eluded the pressure to make dazzling plays, LSU picked up six sacks while harassing him from start to finish.
“(Defensive coordinator) Kevin Steele put them in the right spots, understood how to attack certain things,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “If we had gotten the sacks we were capable of getting today, it statistically could have been way different.”
After scoring 46.6 points per game, Tech tied its second-lowest scoring output of the season.
Tech’s 370 passing yards were less than 20 yards shy of its average, but the Tigers held the Red Raiders, who averaged 594.5 total yards per game, to 399 Tuesday night.
LSU frequently shifted its defensive front and personnel, resulting in heavy pressure from the opening series.
Kingsbury’s air-raid offense lost 13 yards on its first seven snaps and punted twice. Sophomore defensive tackle Davon Godchaux sacked Mahomes on the first play of the game, setting the tone early for the Tigers defense.
“The first three-and-out was minus yards, minus yards, minus yards,” Miles said. “That surely sent a message to the quarterback that it was just not going to be his day.”
The consistent pressure put the Red Raiders in third-and-long situations time and time again. Of Tech’s nine first-half third downs, only one was shorter than 10 yards.
True freshman defensive end Arden Key didn’t record a sack, but he still contributed to the pass rush. While roaming LSU’s six-defensive back Dime set as a stand-up pass-rusher, Key’s twists and stunts opened gaps for his teammates.
LSU pressured Mahomes, the nation’s third-leading passer, on 15 of his 25 first-half dropbacks.
“That was a different level of pass rush than what we’ve seen this year,” Kingsbury said. “Pat was under some duress.”
The Red Raiders went three-and-out on three of their first five possessions but found sporadic success as the game wore on. Mahomes threw four scoring strikes — two of more than 30 yards — and senior receiver Jakeem Grant hauled in 10 catches for 125 yards and three touchdowns.
For all of Mahomes’ heroics, his lone interception of the night changed the momentum for good.
About halfway through the third quarter, Tech’s offense was in rhythm and poised to cut into the Tigers’ 28-20 lead. But junior cornerback Tre’Davious White tipped away Mahomes’ red-zone pass, which fell right into safety Rickey Jefferson’s hands.
LSU marched right down the field and scored again as part of a 35-point, second-half outburst.
“That interception going into the end zone, I thought the game really turned on that,” Kingsbury said.
Junior linebacker Kendell Beckwith led the way with 2.5 sacks and four tackles for loss, while Godchaux pitched in another two sacks.
After an up-and-down season, LSU’s defense kept one of the most potent offenses in the country in check for most of the night. Senior linebacker Deion Jones said the feat required a total team effort from coaches and players alike.
“I have to give that to the coaches making sure we prepared and knew what they were doing,” Jones said. “Guys going 100 percent and giving maximum effort on every play.”