By Kelly Reed
LSU Tigers vs Kansas State Wildcats
Tuesday – January 4 – 8:00 p.m.
NRG Stadium – Houston, TX
Records Before the Game
LSU Tigers (6-6)
Kansas State Wildcats (7-5)
The Texas Bowl committee has to be happy that their bowl is in the spotlight on a Tuesday night with no other bowl games nor NFL games going on that night. Sure there’s the big national title game coming up on the following Monday night between the #3 Georgia Bulldogs and #1 Alabama Crimson Tide, but until then, this is the last college bowl game heading up to it. Fans of LSU and K-State will show their support and fans of college football will have their eyes glued to the game as well. The two teams have only met once before, back in 1980 and the Tigers won the game in Baton Rouge 21-0. Here’s my take on these two teams heading into their bowl game…
LSU is in a state of transition having lost their head coach Ed Orgeron and some players declaring for the NFL or entering the transfer portal. They had to win their last two games to become bowl eligible. The team still has athletes and they’ll put up a fight. The Tigers are waiting to begin the Brian Kelly era after this game, so this Texas Bowl team will be led by Brad Davis. He is tasked with keeping up the streak of winning seasons since 1999 alive. LSU will be without starting quarterback Max Johnson who is transferring to Texas A&M and they won’t have freshman quarterback Garrett Nussmeier (played in four games) who is sitting out to retain his redshirt eligibility. So who will be the signal caller for LSU in this one? There are two freshmen options in Tavion Faulk and Matt O’Dowd. They are both walk-ons with no qb stats this season. Wide receiver Jontre Kirkland was a high school quarterback and might be able to pull off some “Wildcat” snaps. In other words this is a hot mess with no answer until the team lines up on Tuesday night. To compound the qb issue, the Tigers leading rusher Tyrion Davis-Price has declared for the NFL and won’t be available. Look for backup Corey Kiner to get lots of carries and perhaps Houston native Josh Williams to get some touches too. If the Tigers can get the ball to Kirkland, WR Jaray Jenkins and WR Trey Palmer that’ll open up some running lanes and help balance the play calls. As depleted as the offense is, the LSU defense has its own share of issues as well. Recently Defensive Tackle Neil Farrell and Linebacker Damone Clark announced they were taking their talents to the NFL. Perhaps B.J. Ojulari can apply pressure to K-State QB Skylar Thompson to create turnovers and negative yardage plays. Linebackers Mike Jones Jr. and Micah Baskerville (if available) have to fill in holes and lead by example. I still think the defense has enough to make life uncomfortable for the Wildcats offense and keep the game within reach for the Tigers.
Kansas State Wildcats
The Wildcats on the other hand are not dealing with the turmoil that’s affecting the Tigers. They have stability in their coaching staff with head coach Chris Klieman who is in his third season. Transfer portal and NFL declarations haven’t been a distraction to the team either. Kansas State will be led by QB Skylar Thompson who is playing in his 45th and final career game as a Wildcat. He will leave it all out on the field. For the season, Thompson has passed for 1,854 yards with 9 TDs and 4 INTs. He won’t intimidate the Tigers with his legs. He might be able to sneak in a first down or touchdown, but that’ll be about it. Minimal gains fleeing the Tigers pass rush with the occasional scramble. This means that when it comes to the ground game, everything runs through RB Deuce Vaughn. He can score from anywhere on the field with the ball. He’s also a huge threat to take a pass out of the backfield and go the distance. He has 18 total TDs on the season. WR Phillip Brooks is the possession receiver with his 38 receptions for 474 yards this season and a favorite target of Thompson. WR Malik Knowles of Mansfield, Texas is the vertical threat who could be the homer hitter on offense. On defense the Wildcats are solid. They typically get their fair share of JuCo players. The man the Tigers o-line will have to deal with is Defensive End Felix Anudike-Uzomah who can create havoc and chaos with the best of them. He has speed on his side. This season he has 11 sacks and 6 forced fumbles. If he gets loose in the Tiger backfield things could get messy real fast…
The Tigers are essentially sending out a “MASH” unit with an interim coach and no proven quarterback. The Wildcats are basically at full strength. As mentioned earlier, the Wildcats offense isn’t going to “wow” anyone other than the occasional play by RB Vaughn. The Tigers still have a stingy defense even if its missing a few key players. K-State will come out and be aggressive from the start. Thompson will play better than he has all season and the Wildcats will win in a low scoring affair. The over/under is 47.5. Take the under… The Wildcats are giving up a touchdown and I’d still go with them (if I was betting).
Kansas State – 27
LSU – 17