The stage is set for the most anticipated matchup in Austin in recent memory.
On Saturday, the No. 9 Texas Longhorns will welcome the No. 6 LSU Tigers to the Forty Acres, making for the first-ever top 10 regular-season showdown between the Big 12 and the SEC. The Burnt Orange Nation staff got together to discuss keys to the game, what kind of performance Texas will need from Sam Ehlinger, and whether or not the Longhorns can pull off what would largely be considered an upset.
LSU poured 55 points on Georgia Southern and it could have easily been more if the starters stayed in the game. Are you sold on this new-look offense that’s generated so much hype this offseason?
Cody Daniel — Though the offense looked noticeably improved over recent years and will be more entertaining, there was nothing that was overwhelming about it. LSU spreads the ball around to its playmakers in space, but it didn’t look overly explosive. While it should be good, my initial impression was that it overall looked like an above average, but not elite, Big 12 offense from recent seasons.
Curry Shoff — No.
Gerald Goodridge — Based on the limited sample size it’s hard not to be. Five touchdowns from Burrow in a half of football really makes you stop and think about what they are able to accomplish. I don’t think the secondary and pass rush of Georgia Southern is up to the same standard of the Longhorns, so that may change some things, but it still gives you pause.
Anthony Rizzo — With the addition of former Saints offensive assistant Joe Brady, it’s clear that LSU is transforming into a more modernized version of the spread offense. He’s brought in some well-designed wrinkles and play concepts. With that being said, I’m totally sold on the direction LSU’s offense is headed towards. But executing in a tough environment against DC Todd Orlando’s 3-4 defense is a whole different beast. HC Ed Orgeron said his team has been preparing for this matchup since February — we’ll see how ready they are against Orlando’s versatile defense.
Tom Herman noted that LSU has talent everywhere. As far as Texas is concerned, which group is likely to cause the Longhorns the most problems?
Cody — LSU’s receiving corps could be a problem, especially as Texas is still breaking in two new starters at corner. And on the flip side of that, Texas’ strength offensively should be its passing game, but LSU’s secondary is elite and with the Longhorns lacking in the running back department, the Tigers’ defensive backs getting the best of Texas’ receivers would make for a long night for the Longhorns.
Curry — Two areas of concern with one being the most obvious: I think the receiving corps for LSU could be an issue for the inexperienced cornerbacks in the Texas secondary. Outside of the nightmarish running back scenario for Texas, the only other thing that truly scares me about LSU is what they can do to guys like Kobe Boyce, Anthony Cook and Jalen Green. Those three will need to play lights out for Texas to have a chance.The other area of concern is LSU’s talented defensive line. But I have faith in Herb Hand and the guys down front to be able to adapt and adjust to the big Cajun boys.
Gerald — I think the receiving group will give Texas some fits, it seems like a perfect storm of an incredibly-talented wide receiver group against a group of cornerbacks trying to figure itself out. Talent-for-talent, I think the matchup is fine, but it took the Texas secondary a few plays to get it all on the same page against Louisiana Tech. Against a group like LSU that could be a two-score deficit.
Anthony — LSU’s wide receivers and tight ends. In past years, Herman’s team has been plagued with problems in games against legit receiving corps. While there’s plenty of talent in the UT secondary, it’s still a bit of an inexperienced group. Hopefully the basic blown coverages and missed tackles are behind this group. They have to avoid any major mistakes at all costs.
Sam Ehlinger has played hero for the Horns a few times and when he does, Texas beats teams like Oklahoma and Georgia. On this stage, what kind of performance do you expect to see from Ehlinger?
Cody — The stage is pretty much set for Ehliger to validate an entire offseason of hype, and for the most part, I think he lives up to that. I wouldn’t be surprised if he presses a bit early, but once he settles in, we should see that classic, confident Ehlinger that comes alive when he gets into a groove. I’d expect a four-touchdown, 350-yard night.
Curry — A Heisman-caliber one.
Gerald — I think we get classic big-game Ehlinger, in which he attempts to will the Longhorns to victory. From a production standpoint, I see something in the range of 275 yards and three touchdowns through the air, with another 40 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Anthony — Given the shallow depth at the RB position and the magnitude of this game, I’d expect Ehlinger to lay it all on the line. Big moments and big games like these suit him to be the one in control. As long as the LSU defense doesn’t force him into multiple mistakes, I’d expect him to do his part as the QB1 on Saturday.
Considering that Keaontay Ingram is Texas’ only healthy running back, aside from Ehlinger, which Longhorns need to have big nights for Texas to enjoy success against this swarming LSU defense?
Cody — For starters, Ingram needs to have a big day on the ground. Texas’ offense simply can’t afford to be one-dimensional against this LSU defense. That goes hand-in-hand with the entire offensive line, which not only needs to pave the way for Ingram, but has to keep Ehlinger upright long enough to find his talented wide outs. And at receiver, I’ll say Brennan Eagles. I think Collin Johnson will see quite a few double teams, so Eagles -- likely matched up against true freshman Derek Stingley Jr. -- getting open early and making a few big plays will allow things to open up for the rest of the offense.
Curry — All of them. I think Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson will need to be productive. If a guy like Jake Smith gets some playing time I hope Beck and Herman get creative with how he gets the ball. It’s important to remember that horizontal passes are part of the run game too. If Duvernay and Jake Smith can catch in the backfield or even on some end-arounds it can alleviate the load for Keaontay Ingram -- who will also have to play lights out for Texas to have a chance. I think Roschon Johnson will -- unfortunately -- have to be productive as a running back even though he is less than a month into the role. But part of being productive is being able to effectively pass block. I don’t expect 100 yards rushing but understanding LSU fronts and being able to counter a blitz and give Ehlinger more time is about as worthy as five-yard gain in my book.
Gerald — Collin Johnson needs to assert his dominance early. If he can get off for a few big grabs, LSU will probably double him or put a safety over the top. That’s the very thing that opened up LJ Humphrey last year and it would do the same for Devin Duvernay or Brennan Eagles. I also think a guy like Malcolm Epps needs to play like he’s the biggest guy on the field and create some matchup nightmares when he sees snaps.
Anthony — This is undoubtedly the toughest secondary Texas will face all season -- WRs are going to have to win some 50-50 balls and make the necessary plays to put Texas in a position to win. But outside of the WR-DB matchup, Texas’ biggest offensive challenge may be protecting Ehlinger’s blindside. Offensive tackles Sam Cosmi and Derek Kerkstetter have to avoid holding penalties while holding their ground against LSU’s top edge-rusher K’Lavon Chaisson.
On the other side of the ball, LSU spread the ball around really well — 14 players caught a pass — but the ground game was underwhelming by their standard. How can Texas keep Burrow and the Tigers in check?
Cody — We should see a lot of the “Cowboy” package — Texas’ eight-defensive-back look — which will give the Longhorns plenty of speed to minimize the field and allow for an extra body to defend either of LSU’s talented wide outs. And those DBs will have to do their job, which is not only holding their own in coverage, but making plays on the ball-carrier in the open field to prevent things like four-yard dump offs and check downs from turning into 12 and 15-yard gains, etc.
Curry — Getting pressure on Burrow will be key in helping the inexperienced Texas secondary. In games like this, my biggest worry is getting off the field on third down. The last thing I want to see is LSU convert multiple third-and-8s because Boyce, Green, or Cook were out of position. If guys like Ta’Quon Graham and Keondre Coburn becomes household names (in a good way) for casual Texas fans this week then the Horns will be in really good shape. If the Horns protects the ball offensively like they typically do and this defense wins the turnover battle, Texas will win.
Gerald — Well I think if the Longhorns can force or keep LSU focusing on the run game, then defensive coordinator Todd Orlando can start to get tricky with his blitzes and coverage schemes. I have no doubt that Texas will be able to stop the run, so I anticipate seeing Texas in the 3-2-6 for most of the game, putting as many DBs on the field to try and lock down the talented LSU receivers.
Anthony — It starts with forcing Burrow to play out of his comfort zone. He averaged right around 3.5 sacks taken per game in true road games last season. Knowing Orlando, he’s constantly going to mix up the pressure to keep Burrow away from developing a rhythm. When he’s forced out of the pocket, whether it’s a quarterback scramble or a throw on-the-run, that’s where the activeness among the Texas secondary comes into play.
As expected, there’s been a bit of back and forth about which program is the real DBU. With Texas and LSU each featuring offenses that can explode through the air, which — if any — of these secondaries will get embarrassed on Saturday?
Cody — I’m more confident in Ehlinger than I am Burrow to produce at a high level, but I’m also more confident in LSU’s secondary than I am Texas’. I don’t know if embarrassed is the right word, but I think each secondary will sacrifice a few big plays and 300-plus yards because that’s just the nature of seeing an offense will several weapons.
Curry — I don’t want to say.
Gerald — I think it could be a situation where both secondaries come out looking less-than-ideal, but it’s really because both quarterbacks turn in incredible performances.
Anthony — It depends on the flow of the game. I feel like Texas can wear down LSU’s secondary with longer scoring drives, while LSU can exploit Texas’ secondary at an up-tempo pace.
A loss certainly doesn’t mean the season is over, but if Texas beats an elite LSU team on this national stage, what message does that send about where this program is under Tom Herman?
Cody — If Texas wins, if will have wins over No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 5 Georgia, and No. 6 LSU throughout its past 11 games. But unlike the other two — Oklahoma more so than Georgia, since the latter built an entire offseason of hype — beating LSU would likely validate Texas’ return to the national stage, whereas some still weren’t sold after the Sugar Bowl. In short, it will prove that Texas is back.
Curry — Texas is back -- regardless of the outcome of this game (assuming it isn’t a blowout.) However, this is a game that could really elevate Tom Herman into the Tier I category of coach in college football. Most national writers view him as a Tier II guy currently -- even though we now know that he clearly is the right man for the job.
Gerald — If Texas beats LSU, I am officially willing to entertain the conversation about whether or not Texas is back.
Anthony — That Texas is officially back as a Tier 2 program, one tier behind the elites of Alabama and Clemson.
Prediction time: Does Texas pull off what most would consider an upset and top an SEC power for the second time in three games?
Cody — While LSU is probably the better team overall, I think Sam Ehlinger will be the best player on the field and have the kind of memorable performance that people talk about for some time, and that will be the difference. 34-31 Texas.
Curry — My prediction is that we will all be drinking heavily Saturday night after the game.
Gerald — My heart says yes. My gut says very likely. My natural mix of pessimism and anxiety keeps me from saying anything definitively.
Anthony — Whoever wins the turnover battle, wins this game in my opinion. I’m more confident in Ehlinger over Burrow in this environment. I’m geaux-ing out on a limb here with the home team. 27-24 Texas.