Know Your Opponent: Texas Bowl vs. LSU

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Daniel Green celebrates after recording a sack against West Virginia on Nov. 13, 2021. (Archive photo by Elizabeth Sandstrom | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State will take on LSU in the TaxAct Texas Bowl to close out the 2021 campaign on Jan. 4, 2022.

The Tigers (6-6, 3-5 SEC) beat a pair of ranked opponents in Florida and Texas A&M this season but also lost to UCLA and Arkansas in a schedule studded by six ranked teams.

LSU started the year 4-3 before saying goodbye to former National Champion coach Ed Orgeron and, while the Tigers have their new guy lined up for next year, they will turn to offensive line coach Brad Davis as the interim head coach for the bowl game.

Davis has never ranked higher as a coach than co-offensive coordinator and is a career offensive line coach. He is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana — where LSU is located — and won a National Championship as a lineman at Oklahoma in 2000 under Bob Stoops.

It’s hard to tell how a career position coach will perform as an interim head coach. Perhaps the biggest boost on his resume, though, is that new head coach Brian Kelly has opted to keep him around to coach the o-line next year instead of going out and finding his own guy.

The Tigers will have the same coordinators as they had this season calling the plays. Jake Peetz will call the offense and coach quarterbacks, and Daronte Jones will direct the defense and coach defensive backs.

OFFENSE:

LSU is in a bit of a bind at the signal-caller position. Its Bowl Game two-deep only lists freshmen Garrett Nussmeier and Tavion Faulk at the position. The rest of the position group has either suffered season-ending injuries or transferred away.

The question is whether Nussmeier is willing to give up his redshirt for a bowl game after having already played in four games this year. The official LSU media guide says that Nussmeier’s status is “still undetermined” for the match-up.

For now, we’ll operate under the assumption that Nussmeier will play given that there is no film on Faulk and their third option at QB is likely a wide receiver.

Injuries and opt-outs have also wreaked havoc on LSU’s running back room. They’ll turn to a freshman with only 65 carries at the top spot there.

LSU’s offensive scheme is balanced — 432 passes vs. 408 runs — and is not really beholden to any specific style out of a spread attack. Look for them to try to spread K-State out laterally with quick-hitting passes and run the ball into that lateral space out of 11 personnel (one running back and one tight end) and 10 personnel (one running back, no tight ends).

With Nussmeier in the game against Arkansas, LSU wasn’t afraid to let him sling it. He took a shot at the end zone with his first play of the game, opting to run the ball a bit more heavily after. He completed 58 percent of his passes for 179 yards, a touchdown and two picks in a hurry-up offense.

They will have their opening day offensive line back for the first time since their season opener against UCLA.

DEFENSE:

The Tigers’ two-deep indicates a 3-4 defense, but they will probably be more multiple than that and give K-State some four-man and even possibly BEAR fronts, depending on the situation. Against Mississippi State, they went with a 3-2-6 to beat Mike Leach’s air raid attack: K-State probably won’t need to worry about that, though.

LSU will be thin in the secondary for the bowl game compared to what they are used to and is missing one of the top linebackers in the country in Domane Clark, who is opting out to focus on the NFL Draft. They also have six week-one starters out on defense because of season-ending injuries and a seventh who is transferring.

Their defense allowed 25.3 points per game and 372.2 yards per game this year, but haven’t allowed a first-quarter touchdown since week seven.

KEY MATCH-UPS:

Bowl Game Woes:

K-State is 9-13 in bowl games all time. Part of that is because the Wildcats tend to find themselves matched up with more talented opponents who underperformed in the season (looking at you Arkansas).

This is the case for LSU, which has the fifth-most talented roster in the country, according to 247’s roster rankings. That includes six former five-stars and 43 three-stars. At full strength, they are one spot ahead of Oklahoma.

K-State fans are fond of saying that stars don’t matter, so this will be K-State’s opportunity to show it against a shorthanded — but still talented — opponent.

One Last Ride:

Quarterback Skylar Thompson will suit up for his last game in K-State purple after a very long career as the starting quarterback. He’s one of K-State’s top quarterbacks in several statistical categories and entered the season in the program’s top-10 in 15 stats.

The Wildcats will hope for one more magical performance from the starting signal-caller, who should be close to full health after missing a couple of games because of injury and being banged up down the stretch.

Coaching Carousel:

LSU isn’t the only team with coaching staff turnover in this game. The Wildcats chose not to bring back offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham, leaving former K-State quarterback Collin Klein to call the shots for K-State in the Bowl Game.

This is — in all likelihood — a tryout for Klein. K-State has not made a hire to replace Messingham or made any indication of who it might be. Head coach Chris Klieman could be looking to see how Klein’s bowl preparation, play-calling and leadership as the OC look before he considers seeking an outside hire.

It’s simple: if Klein seizes the opportunity and shows something special in the bowl game, he very well could be the offensive coordinator next year. If he doesn’t, Klieman will probably look elsewhere.

PREDICTION:

This is the toughest prediction of the year. There’s so much up in the air for this bowl game from both a personnel and coaching perspective. I think K-State will ride Deuce Vaughn heavily and pepper in some quarterback run, which should be just enough. K-State wins 27-21.

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Hi! I'm Nathan Enserro, a graduate student from Olathe, Kansas, working on a Masters in Mass Communication. I graduated in spring 2020 with a Bachelor's of Science in strategic communications from K-State. This is my fourth year covering K-State sports for the Collegian.