HOUSTON—Les Miles did not speak much about his job status as LSU’s head coach heading into Tuesday night’s Advocare V100 Texas Bowl match up against Texas Tech except to say that he appreciated how fans stood by him despite having arguably the toughest of his 11 seasons in Baton Rouge.
After a dominating 56-27 victory over the Red Raiders, that cynical fan base and talks of his future can be put on hold at least for the next eight months.
Nothing cures an offensive slump like facing an atrocious defense.
The Tigers’ game plan was simple: get the ball to All-American running back Leonard Fournette, again and again and again. The Tigers were methodical, deliberate and simply blew away Texas Tech with power and speed when they had the good sense not to put the ball in the air.
But when the Tigers did throw the ball, it got an efficient game from quarterback Brandon Harris, who completed 13 of his 22 attempts for 254 yards with one touchdown, one interception, while adding 35 more yards on the ground.
Texas Tech defensive coordinator David Gibbs admitted before the game that his team was "overmatched defensively” and he was right on cue as any chance that Tech and the nation’s third-worst rushing defense had at stopping LSU’s ground game went out of the window the first time the Tigers had the ball.
The Red Raiders fired three defensive assistants after the regular season and entered the game giving up 42.6 points per game and 278 yards on the ground. The Texas Bowl was the eighth time this season Texas Tech has given up 40 or more points.
But the story of the Texas Bowl was Fournette, who was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Fournette ran for 40 yards on that first series, including a 35-yard scramble while bowling over a Tech defender and hurdling over his own teammate. Later in the drive, he opened the scoring with a 2-yard plunge.
He finished with 212 yards on 29 carries, also scoring on runs of 43 and four yards in the third quarter and another two-yard score in the fourth.
Fournette also added his first career receiving touchdown on a 44-yard screen pass from Harris to gave the Tigers a 21-6 lead late in the second quarter.
While LSU exploded on a less than stellar Red Raider defense, rolling up 638 yards of total offense, their problems for a majority of the season started on the offensive end. They came in to the Texas Bowl not scoring more than 20 points in any of their previous four games.
Texas Tech sophomore quarterback Patrick Mahomes was running for his life the majority of the game, but still managed to go 28-56 for 370 yards and four touchdowns, including three scores to Jakeem Grant. He was intercepted once and sacked six times.
DeAndre Washington, who led the Big 12 in rushing this season, was held to 37 yards on 11 carries for Texas Tech, who entered the game averaging 46.6 points, 594.5 yards of total offense and 389.7 passing yards, each ranking second in the nation.
Harris was picked off Texas Tech linebacker Dakota Allen and cashed in three plays and 19 seconds later on a touchdown pass from Mahomes to Reginald Davis cut the lead to 21-20 in the third quarter. That’s as close as Tech would get.
For the Tigers, (9-3, 5-3 SEC), this bowl victory put a stamp on an otherwise roller-coaster season, going from winning their first seven games to being ranked second in the initial College Football Playoff rankings and Fournette being virtually handed the Heisman Trophy, only to follow it up with three consecutive blowout losses calling into question about the Tigers’ conservative offensive philosophy and Miles’ murky future with the program.
Only after LSU ended the regular season with a 19-7 home victory over Texas A&M and was carried off the field by his players did athletic director Joe Alleva state that Miles was staying put for the immediate future.
While the 2016 season will bring in the one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, that doesn’t save Miles from his hot seat and he knows their offensive tendencies must change if the Tigers are to compete for future SEC and national championships.
For now, the Tigers can rely on Harris and Fournette who most certainly will be a top Heisman contender in 2016 and a high NFL draft pick whenever he decides to leave school.
Texas Tech’s problems in 2015 started in the season opener, giving up 45 points to Sam Houston State, on its way to being one of the worst defenses in college football. They proceeded to allow 55 points to TCU, 63 to Baylor and Oklahoma, 70 to Oklahoma State, 44 to Kansas State and 45 to Texas.
The Raiders have a lot to build on after finishing the 7-6 after a 4-8 campaign in 2014. Head coach Kliff Klingsbury’s bunch can score with the best of them and he will have the services of Mahomes, who will be a junior next season. Kingsbury’s tenure at Tech could be ending sooner than later if something is not drastically done to his defense next season.