LSU relies most on its running game, though, and wields three outstanding backs. LaBrandon Toefield, last year's 1st team all-SEC performer, is fully healthy after breaking his arm earlier in the season. He's a 230-pound bowling ball, and offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher salivates at the idea of ramming him into the line frequently versus Texas. "It's going to be huge to run the football," Fisher said. "You can slow the front down a little bit. It at least makes them respect the run so your play-action stuff can get it off and get down the field. He brings toughness to us and always has with our team. Our team has always fed off him. When he was healthy, he'd always make a couple of runs in the game–break two tackles, break three tackles–and our team fed off that."
Be ready Texas. A huge question for the Horns is whether defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs, their best run-stuffer, will be available in the Cotton Bowl. He's been nursing a bad leg the last month of the season, and defensive coordinator Carl Reese, concerned in acknowledging UT's difficulty in defending power runners, is unsure how much, if any, the 300-pounder will play.
As a change of pace, LSU possesses outstanding all-around threat Domanick Davis, who made 2nd team all-SEC both as a running back and as a kick return specialist. As an occasional starter this year, he led the team with 846 yards (4.7 avg.) and scored six touchdowns on the ground. Joseph Addai is yet another threat, gaining 433 yards and garnering the highest yards per carry (5.5) of any Tiger with at least 50 attempts. He proved instrumental in the win over Kentucky, leading the squad with 91 yards on just nine rushes, including a 63-yard third quarter run to paydirt.
Much feeds off the running game, but LSU quarterback Marcus Randall is capable of supplying some juice of his own to those totals. He led the team with 74 yards rushing against Auburn and 54 versus Alabama. Since those two contests represented the Tigers two worst defeats of the year though, Marcus and offensive coordinator Fisher would prefer Toefield, Davis, and Addai carry the ground burden.
How is Randall in the passing game? After taking over for the injured season-starter Matt Mauck, Randall handled himself like a veteran in his first outing. From there, he ran into some tough games against the likes of Auburn (four interceptions) and Alabama (completed 6 of 17, 39 yards), and the LSU staff let him ride the pine.
Marcus, off the bench in the Tigers' last home game against Mississippi, led two clutch scoring drives to beat the Rebels. He threw a 19-yard TD with two seconds left before halftime to close the gap to 10-7, and then supplied the 27-yard game-winner with six minutes to play in the contest.
Though LSU gained empathy for Kentucky by suffering a similar fate to Arkansas the last game of the season, Randall played well against the nation's 43rd rated pass efficiency defense. He connected on 14 of 25 for 203 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions. For the season, other than the Auburn game (his first road start), he has not thrown an interception.
Nick Saban's offense does not own the glamorous numbers that the defensive-minded coach's other unit possesses. Though, as noted above, it's not without talent, when staring at the season figures for the Horns and the Tigers, Mack Brown's defenders appear to stack up well.
LSU is ranked 89th nationally in total offense (yards per game), while Texas stands at 12th in total defense. LSU is 71st in scoring offense; Texas 8th in scoring defense. LSU is 76th in pass efficiency offense; Texas is 11th in pass efficiency defense. The only "bright spot" the Tigers may view is they rank 32nd in rushing, while the Longhorns are a comparatively modest 39th in rushing defense.
Even so, the four teams that defeated LSU possessed the four highest-rated run defenses the Tigers faced. With Auburn at #45, Texas' #39 falls in that group.
For Jimbo Fisher's offensive unit to move the ball effectively, all the best scenarios will likely need to occur. Toefield must display the form that made him all-SEC in 2001 and not that which has made him a two-yard per carry runner since his return from injury late in the season. Clayton and possibly Skyler Green, who made a 67-yard catch and run for a score against Arkansas, will need to fill the void left by touchdown machine Henderson. Randall must play more with the cool hand he displayed at the end of the year than the mistake-prone and ineffective version during the stretch that put LSU's season in jeopardy.
If Randall can't move the Tigers' offense with any consistency, expect Fisher to go to a no-huddle offense to ignite a spark.
Undoubtedly, in his last game in a Burnt Orange uniform, defensive end Cory Redding will fire plenty of his own ammo at the purple and gold.
Coming tomorrow: UT O vs. LSU D
Bert Hancock has owned two college football-related web sites and was designated "Lead Writer" of one of the first independent web sites dedicated strictly to UT sports. At the University of Texas, where he received a Bachelor of Business degree, his area of specialty was in statistics and probabilities. His "Strength In Numbers" column appears regularly on InsideTexas.com.