To Davis' credit, he improved his playcalling considerably following the loss to the Sooners in October. However, Cotton Bowl memories haunt him since the Ricky Williams-led Horns crushed Mississippi State on the first day of 1999. Beyond that, his offenses have scored six points against Arkansas in the 2000 Cotton, 14 irrelevant points against OU in 2000, three points against the Sooners in 2001, and 17 this past season (Rod Babers scored one of the TDs with an interception return), all playing a role–sometimes a primary one–in defeats.
Texas possesses an aerial arsenal capable of crushing average defenses, and still giving outstanding ones fits. LSU may be one group up to the task, as linebacker Bradie James, an AP second-team All-American, leads a stop unit that ranks fifth nationally in total defense (278.8 yards allowed per game) and 10th in scoring defense (16.9). The Tigers also trot out the nation's third-rated pass efficiency defense to counter Simms' and the Longhorns' No. 14 pass efficiency rating across the line of scrimmage.
LSU's rush defense ranks a more humble 42nd (similar to Texas' 39th rated rush defense), but can the Horns take advantage of that? In the days when Darrell Royal roamed the sidelines, Texas stampeded over any ground-related defensive deficiency, but the current era editions often sputter in that department. No one knows, until New Years' Day, if Texas' running game will prove a detriment or an asset.
For the record, UT's running game ranks a ghastly 70th nationally at 137.4 yards per contest and Longhorn backs are averaging just 3.4 yards per attempt. LSU allowed 187.3 yards per game rushing and 4.7 yards per rush the last six games of the year compared to 84.3 ypg and 2.6 ypr the first six. But all of the Tigers' generous days occurred against rushing attacks rated considerably higher than the Horns.'
With LSU's front-line defenders like Marcus Spears and Chad Lavalois getting healthy again after several weeks playing banged up, a strong likelihood exists that Simms, Roy Williams, and the other wideouts will need to play like the future NFL performers they are for Texas to move the ball well enough to win.
The injuries to Nick Saban's Tiger defenders have in part led to a recent drop off in pressure and sacks. Through its first seven contests, LSU compiled 29 sacks, but have since managed only nine more over the last five tests. Simms has felt the thunder of several pass rushers this fall, but generally handles the physical and mental aspects with determination and prosperity as a senior.
The drop in pressure, sacks, and the running game also affect LSU's overall ability to defend the airways. Though, as noted, owning the third-rated unit in the land, the secondary has been "so-so" during a four-game stretch prior to the season finale, allowing 51 completions in 103 attempts for 721 yards and seven TDs. Saban's squad only picked off three in those four games.
While those numbers are still respectable, they indicate passers rated high in efficiency can move the ball effectively through the air. Simms and UT rate 14th in the country in that category. Other than versus a new Virginia Tech quarterback and a suspiciously highly-ranked passing attack from MAC conference rep Miami (Ohio), both early in 2002, LSU has not shown any kind of shut-down ability against better passing teams. The Tigers will face their toughest aerial test of the season in Dallas.
A key question on that subject is whether Saban will have his secondary attempt to cover Roy Williams with single coverage, a strategy frequently used by his squad. The record-setting Longhorn sure hopes so: "Any time a person gets up in your face man to man, to me, that's disrespectful because it says, 'I'm going to shut you down by myself,'" Williams said. "That really makes me mad. But that's part of getting ready for the next level because they play man-to-man. It makes me better."
Not sure about covering him solo, but the Tigers are already altering their normal preparation by having 6-4 receiver Michael Clayton pull double-duty as a defensive back to help out against the Horns' taller receivers. Roy, a blazer, also happens to be at least 6-4, setting up an interesting battle.
The novice maneuver may be a sound strategy–or a cry for help.
Also see Strength in Numbers: LSU O vs. UT 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.