The Tigers and Longhorns meet in Austin on Saturday night
Texas hosts LSU on Saturday night in a clash of top-10 teams and one of the most-anticipated games of the 2019 college football season. It’s only Week 2, but this huge non-conference showdown could matter for playoff positioning later in the season. Additionally, it’s also a good barometer test for both teams. Texas is breaking in a handful of new starters on defense, while LSU has a revamped offense that impressed in the opener against Georgia Southern. Just how far have both groups progressed this offseason and from Week 1? Saturday night should provide plenty of insight.
LSU is 26-9 since Ed Orgeron replaced Les Miles as the program’s head coach during the 2016 campaign. The Tigers exceeded preseason expectations by winning 10 games and playing in a New Year’s Six bowl last season. However, the looming question over this program is whether or not LSU can catch Alabama in the SEC West. In order to do so, improving the offense was a must this offseason for Orgeron. He brought in Joe Brady from the Saints to add more spread elements to the offense, and the early returns against Georgia Southern were promising. The Tigers averaged 6.6 yards a play in a 55-3 victory over the Eagles. If LSU can get that type of production out of this group in 2019, Orgeron’s squad will be a playoff contender.
With Tom Herman at the helm, Texas is a program on the rise. Last year’s 10 victories marked the first time the Longhorns have hit double-digit wins since 2009. Herman had to replace a ton of talent from last season’s team and returned just two starters on defense. However, Texas brings back one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in Sam Ehlinger, and there’s no shortage of talent from the last two recruiting classes ready to step into bigger roles. The Longhorns opened the season with a 45-14 victory over Louisiana Tech and play Rice next week before opening Big 12 play on Sept. 21.
Texas holds a 9-7-1 series edge over LSU. These two teams have not played in a regular season game since 1954. The last two matchups between the Tigers and Longhorns took place in the Cotton Bowl (1963 and 2003).
LSU at Texas
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 7 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: LSU -6.5
When LSU Has the Ball
Improving the offense has seemingly been an annual storyline at LSU in recent years. That held true this offseason, but it might be time to put that storyline to rest. While tougher defenses await, last week’s offensive display by the Tigers showcased an improved and different approach on offense. The addition of Joe Brady from the Saints brought more spread and tempo concepts to Baton Rouge, with veteran coordinator Steve Ensminger meshing everything together as the play-caller. In last week’s win, LSU recorded 122 yards on the ground and 350 through the air. Those totals added up to 6.6 yards a play, while the offense scored touchdowns in six out of the first seven drives.
LSU’s offense clearly seems to be improved under the new scheme, but the key to the development of this group also comes from the return of quarterback Joe Burrow. The Ohio State transfer joined the roster last summer and had a solid all-around debut in Baton Rouge. And as evidenced by last week, the senior is a good fit for this offense. Burrow doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and never seems to be rattled by pressure. Additionally, his mobility is an x-factor behind an offensive line that was shaky at times last fall.
Getting the ball to playmakers in space is one goal for this offense, and Burrow has plenty of weapons on the outside. Justin Jefferson (five catches for 87 yards) is the top target, with Derrick Dillon, Terrace Marshall and Ja’Marr Chase rounding out one of the SEC’s top receiving corps. Burrow can also lean on running backs Clyde Edwards-Helaire or John Emery for catches out of the backfield. Even though the scheme has changed, LSU isn’t going to abandon the run. Both Edwards-Helaire and Emery will test a Texas front that held Louisiana Tech to just 73 rushing yards in the opener.
As mentioned previously, the Longhorns have a rebuilt front seven on defense. However, there’s no shortage of talent here for coordinator Todd Orlando. End Malcolm Roach and linebacker Joseph Ossai headline the new standouts up front for Texas. Additionally, safety Caden Sterns is already one of the top players in the nation at his position. Similar to LSU’s offense, Texas will have a better idea of where this group stands after Saturday night. With the Tigers wanting to get the ball in space, tackling and preventing five-yard gains from becoming 15-yarders is key. Also, the Longhorns have to find a way to generate pressure on Burrow.
When Texas Has the Ball
For Texas to win on Saturday night, it will need a huge performance from quarterback Sam Ehlinger. Of course, that’s stating the obvious just a bit. The junior is one of the top signal-callers in the nation and is a big reason why the Longhorns have made significant strides in the win column over the last two years. In the opener against Louisiana Tech, Ehlinger connected on 28 of 38 throws for 276 yards and four touchdowns. However, Ehlinger’s presence is even more critical considering the personnel situation at running back. The Longhorns won’t have Jordan Whittington, Daniel Young or Kirk Johnson due to injury, which means Keaontay Ingram will have to shoulder even more of the workload in the backfield. Herman and the Texas staff don’t want Ehlinger to tote the ball 25-30 times a week, but this matchup is the right opportunity to let the junior handle as many runs as possible.
When Ehlinger drops back to pass, senior Collin Johnson (four catches for 59 yards against Louisiana Tech) will be his top option. But the junior has other weapons in the form of Brennan Eagles and Devin Duvernay to target. Freshman Jake Smith is another player to watch.
While LSU’s offense seems to be improved, the strength of this team is still on defense. The Tigers held Georgia Southern to just 98 total yards (2.0 per play) and did not allow a play longer than 12 yards. LSU’s secondary is anchored by one of the nation’s top defenders in safety Grant Delpit, along with cornerback Kristian Fulton. The linebacker unit no longer has Devin White leading the way, but this group and the starters in the trenches form a strong defensive front.
Ehlinger came up big for Texas in upset wins over Oklahoma and Georgia last season. The junior will have to deliver the same type of performance for a victory on Saturday night. However, LSU will look to contain Ehlinger. The chess match between Herman and LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda will be fun to watch.
It’s no secret Texas coach Tom Herman has thrived as an underdog in his career. Can the Longhorns pull off another upset? Herman will need a big game from Ehlinger and a couple of takeaways from his defense in order to do so. LSU’s new-look offense isn’t going to put up numbers similar to last week, but this scheme is a good fit for Burrow and the receivers. Expect a close one in Austin on Saturday night. However, give a slight edge to the Tigers, as the defense and Burrow comes up with just enough in the fourth quarter to leave with a victory.