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Texas faces No. 1 LSU in the season’s premier non-conference home game

The Tigers come to Austin with a high-powered offense and a pitching staff that may have some vulnerabilities.

Syndication: Austin American-Statesman Aaron E. Martinez/American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK

In the biggest non-conference home game of the 2023 season, the Texas Longhorns welcome the No. 1 LSU Tigers to UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Tuesday evening looking for an improbable upset of the nation’s top-ranked team.

The two teams face off for first time since last season’s 6-1 win in Houston. In 2019, Texas swept LSU in Austin, where the Longhorns hold a 17-2-1 advantage in the all-time series. The last win for Tigers came in Baton Rouge in 2020.

LSU arrives at the Disch at 6-1 this season ready for its first true road game after four wins at home, including a 5-3 Saturday win over Western Michigan in the opening weekend, and a 2-1 weekend in Round Rock that included a 12-4 loss to Iowa. In the other four games, the Tigers won by a combined margin of 50-13.

The wind shouldn’t be a factor, but it’s difficult to say whether that will be a net benefit for Texas against an LSU team batting .328 with 10 home runs, led by outfielder Dylan Crews, who is hitting .565 (No. 5 nationally) with a .688 on-base percentage (No. 2 nationally).

Of the nine regular players for the Tigers, seven are batting .300 or better and five are hitting over .400. So the top of the lineup is intimidating and doesn’t taper off much until the bottom of the order.

Last week, sophomore right-hander Thacher Hurd started the midweek game against Southern, allowing four runs on six hits in only two innings before three relievers gave only two hits and zero runs over the final five innings for LSU. Relief efforts went more poorly in the loss to Iowa when three relievers conceded seven runs on nine hits after the starter left following three innings of work. Through seven games, the Tigers have used 10 relievers with no one making more than two appearances, leaving some question as to whether there are currently clearly defined roles in the LSU bullpen.

Texas is coming off a 4-2 Sunday loss to Indiana that head coach David Pierce called one of the most embarrassing losses of his coaching career thanks to miscommunication on the base paths that resulted in four Longhorns thrown out at second base in the final five innings.

For a team with little margin for error thanks to the inability to hit home runs that defined last season’s team, execution matters more than ever, whether it’s communicating on the base paths, knowing when to take an extra base, or executing sacrifice bunts or hit and runs in the batter’s box will determine success or failure this season. After the Sunday second-inning debacle defensively in Arlington and some defensive miscues in the Sunday game against Indiana, throw in making consistent plays defensively, too.

But for those little things to add up in favor of Texas in any meaningful way, the Horns likely need a strong effort from prospective starter Lebarron Johnson Jr., the redshirt sophomore right-hander who worked five innings in last week’s 12-2 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, allowing one run on three hits while striking out eight and walking three batters.

Four regular starters are still struggling at the plate, too — right fielder Dylan Campbell is hitting .200 with a 35-percent strikeout rate, first baseman Jared Thomas is at .190, second baseman Jack O’Dowd is at .167, and third baseman/designated hitter Jalin Flores is batting .118. Campbell struggled through his freshman season and the start of his sophomore campaign before picking it up late, but Texas can’t afford for him to scuffle through February and March this season

First pitch is at 6:30 p.m. Central on Longhorn Network with neither team officially declaring a starter.