Tuesday, December 29, 2015

LSU Tigers: 2015 Texas Bowl Champions



HOUSTON — Cam Cameron strutted along the sideline with play sheet in hand, and D.J. Chark raced 79 yards for a touchdown.

Trey Quinn caught a 46-yard pass, and Tre’Davious White played some safety.

Les Miles followed last month’s job-security drama with some ole Mad Hatter surprises in the Texas Bowl.

The result: LSU 56, Texas Tech 27.

The No. 22 Tigers (9-3) rolled up 638 yards of offense — gaining some in peculiar ways — and LSU’s defense suffocated the pass-heavy Red Raiders (7-6) just enough, finishing a wacky 2015 season by winning a late-night shootout Tuesday.

Running back Leonard Fournette ran for 212 yards and four scores, caught a touchdown pass and broke the LSU single-season record for rushing TDs.

All of that was normal and expected.

What wasn’t?

Chark, a little used sophomore receiver, had a 79-yard scoring run on an end-around on the first play of LSU’s third drive.

Cameron called plays from the sideline for the first time in his three-year tenure as offensive coordinator.

Quinn, another little-used sophomore receiver, more than doubled his receiving yards in the previous 11 games with his 47-yard grab.

And White, the Tigers’ cornerback and projected first- or second-round draft pick, played safety at times.

In front of a sellout crowd of 71,307, Cameron and his offense roared against a defense that was one of the worst in the nation. LSU scored its most points this season and finished with its most yards. Brandon Harris threw for more than 250 yards, and four players had at least 40 receiving yards.

Receiver Malachi Dupre, the one-time five-star recruit, shined with leading receiver Travin Dural out with injury. He caught four passes for 94 yards, making two highlight-reel plays.

Fournette excelled, as many expected against the nation’s second-worst rushing defense. He picked up a fourth 200-yard game this season and a 10th 100-yard outing in 12 games.

His five touchdowns tied the NCAA bowl record for scores from scrimmage, and he broke a half-dozen tackles on the way to a banner day.

The Tigers needed him in this scoring mess. Tech entered with the top passing offense in the nation and the second-best offense overall.

Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for 370 yards and four touchdowns, and LSU needed a key play in the third quarter to change momentum.

With the Tigers nursing a 28-20 lead, White tipped a pass from Mahomes, and Rickey Jefferson — another surprising star — picked it off at the goal line.

“That was a big turning point,” Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said.

The Tigers’ hot offense answered. They got a clutch 39-yard reception from Dupre on the next drive, and then Harris hit Quinn for that long pass to set up one of Fournette’s four rushing touchdowns.

The Tigers scored again the next series on Harris’ 26-yard designed keeper, grabbing a 42-20 lead with 9 seconds left in the third quarter to clear out a once-packed NRG Stadium.

Kendell Beckwith had 2.5 sacks, Davon Godchaux had 2 and Deion Jones had one as the Tigers used that old 3-2-6 Mustang defense against spread-crazed Tech.

The swarming defensive front held Tech to 399 yards — nearly 200 under its season average — helping guarantee the Tigers a Top-25 ranking to end the season. LSU will finish in the Top 25 for the ninth time in Miles’ 11 seasons, and the Tigers hit the nine-win mark for the ninth time.

Players and coaches celebrated on a late night in the nation’s fourth-largest city. They swarmed around a makeshift stage at midfield during the trophy presentation.

Seniors Jamie Keehn, Vadal Alexander and Jones — permanent team captains — stood on the stage with Miles and Fournette, the MVP. Thousands of Tigers fans lingered and roared as Miles addressed them and slipped on a Texas Bowl baseball cap.

Fournette visited with family and friends, donning a cowboy hat — all smiles on a surprising night in Houston.
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