Texas wins if, Texas loses if: Showdown with No. 6 LSU

Wills Layton

ESPN’s College GameDay has returned to Austin for the first time in a decade, and for good reason. This week the No. 9 Longhorns will take on the No. 6 LSU Tigers in college football’s first matchup between top-10 teams this season. It’s a game that has early College Football Playoff implications.

Both squads are coming off dominant Week One victories over non-Power Five teams. With quarterbacks commandeering high-powered offenses on both teams, we are ready for what should be an explosive matchup.

Here’s how one of the most anticipated games of the year could go:

Texas wins if … 

… the young defensive players can match last week’s performance. 

One of the biggest questions heading into the season was whether the Texas defense would be able to replace eight defensive starters. After Week One, the answer to that question seems to be yes. Sophomore cornerback Jalen Green and sophomore linebacker Joseph Ossai both played well, helping the defense hold the Bulldogs to a shutout through three quarters before their backups entered the game. While LSU will be a much bigger challenge for the young defense, the Longhorns boast enough athleticism and talent to compete at a high level.

… no “running back” leaves the game due to injury. 

In another bit of bad news for the Texas offense, freshman running back Jordan Whittington suffered a torn adductor muscle during the Louisiana Tech game. This injury will keep him out for several weeks, meaning the number of healthy running backs on the roster has been reduced to one — sophomore Keaontay Ingram. Freshman quarterback Roschon Johnson moved to running back for last week’s game and played well, while freshman linebacker David Gbenda will be practicing as the third running back this week. If the Longhorns want any chance of winning and maintaining a balanced offense, Ingram must stay healthy.

… they win the turnover battle. 

Turnovers can change the tide in an instant. The LSU offense scored 55 points in its first week running the spread, but the Longhorn offense is also talented and can be explosive. The game could turn into a shootout, and the winner of the turnover battle will put themselves in a great position in this tightly-contested matchup. If Texas is going to pull off the upset and earn a signature win of the Tom Herman era, it will have to produce takeaways and avoid mistakes.

Texas loses if … 

… the Longhorns can’t develop an early rhythm on offense. 

The first drive of last week’s game was methodical and well-executed, ending in six points on the screen to senior wide receiver Devin Duvernay. Those kinds of drives will need to happen often and early in order for the Longhorns to win. The Tigers will present a much bigger threat on offense, and can outscore opponents in a hurry. With a young defense that is relatively unproven even after a strong opening weekend, the floodgates could be blown open. If the Longhorns don’t move the ball consistently early in the game, it could put them in a hole they can’t climb out of.

… the defense can’t handle Joe Burrow. 

The LSU senior was named co-SEC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts in Week One, and for good reason. Scoring five touchdowns in the first half alone, Burrow’s ability in the pocket has steadily improved over his career. With the high-powered attack vastly more dangerous than the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, the Texas defense will be forced to deal with a top-tier quarterback in Burrow. If the defense is not up for the task, Texas will be in trouble.