LSU finishes year with encouraging bowl win
After a wild season filled with ups and downs, jubilation and turmoil, things ended with a triumphed victory for LSU. Now, they can only hope that the bowl win can be a springboard into next season.
The Tigers are are smiles now, but it wasn't that way just a little over a month ago when they dropped three straight games by a combined margin of 48 points. They went from the second-ranked team in the nation to just hoping to hang on to their longtime head coach.
With an inspired 19-7 home win over Texas A&M, LSU was able to right the ship, regain some confidence, and most importantly, save Les Miles' job.
Even with Miles safe, there was still a lot riding on LSU's Texas Bowl matchup with Texas Tech. The Tigers were just 1-3 in their previous four bowl games, and anemic offensive play was one of the biggest contributing factors.
When that was combined with LSU's poor offensive play late in 2015, Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron needed the offense to come up big. They did just that against the Red Raiders.
The Tigers shredded the much-maligned Texas Tech defense by rolling up 638 yards of total offense--an LSU bowl record.
As expected, Leonard Fournette had his way with a run defense ranked nearly dead last in the nation. He went for 212 yards and four touchdowns. He also had a 44-yard touchdown grab.
In all, LSU piled up 384 rushing yards.
The Tiger passing attack had their moments as well. Brandon Harris was in no way perfect. He missed some open throws and was picked off early in the third quarter. However, he did make some clutch throws down the stretch in what turned out to be a 254-yard effort.
Miles thought that much of the offense's success had to do with the decision to have Cameron on the sideline during the game.
"It helped. I thought, tremendously," Miles said. "I thought that he brought energy to it. I thought that Brandon Harris, seeing Cam and listening and getting instruction, not even so much what he said but how he said it, just made a tremendous difference to him and his approach."
The Tiger defense was another high mark in the victory. They held Texas Tech's explosive offense to just 27 points and 399 total yards. Heading into the game, they were averaging 47 points and 596 yards per contest.
LSU's defensive front had an amazing night. They held the Red Raiders to just 29 yards rushing and sacked Patrick Mahomes six times. When he wasn't getting sacked, he was often running for his life.
Even at the end of the game, when they held a comfortable 56-27 lead, the Tiger defense never took their foot off of the accelerator. They stood tall and came through with a goal-line stand.
With the victory, LSU can head into 2016 feeling good about themselves after a rough three weeks in November.
"I think this is the right turn," Miles said. "I think certainly you can see the program itself is being manned by real quality young men and that they're looking for the kind of success they had tonight in a bountiful way and by numbers."
The Tigers will bring back a lot of talent and a lot of expectations next season.
Harris will be back with a year of experience under his belt at quarterback, but he will have to beat out Purdue transfer Danny Etling.
Fournette will head into the season as one of the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy. In just 12 games this year, Fournette set school records for most single-season rushing yards with 1,953 and rushing touchdowns with 22.
Derrius Guice, Darrel Williams and Nick Brossette will all return in the backfield. Also, fullback J.D. Moore will be back after missing most of the season with a knee injury.
Travin Dural may decide to leave early for the NFL, but that still leaves Malachi Dupre, Tyron Johnson, Trey Quinn and incoming Donaldsonville freshman Stephen Sullivan at receiver.
The offensive line will be a concern as they lose Vadal Alexander. Jerald Hawkins and Ethan Pocic are both considering early exits for the NFL.
Defensively, both Christian LaCouture and Lewis Neal are considering early departures, but if they stay, the LSU defensive line should be their strength next season.
The secondary will lose their captain in Jalen Mills and most likely their best cornerback in junior Tre'Davious White. Though, they will return one of the best safeties in the country in Jamal Adams and two very talented freshmen corners in Kevin Toliver II and Donte Jackson.
It's at linebacker where LSU's defense will take the biggest hit. They lose a Butkus finalist in Deion Jones. Junior and two-year starter at middle linebacker, Kendell Beckwith may decide to leave as well.
If Beckwith does go, Duke Riley and Donnie Alexander will be expected to step up in a big way.
Even with Miles staying put, there are still question marks with the rest of the coaching staff. Cameron's contract is up, and it is yet to be determined if they will bring him back for a third year or look elsewhere.
Defensively, Kevin Steele left after one year of being defensive coordinator, but LSU quickly hired Wisconsin's Dave Aranda to fill the void. Aranda has led the Badgers to top-10 finishes in total defense in all three of his years in Madison.