Can DeAndre Washington steal the show in the Texas Bowl?


Tuesday’s Texas Bowl match-up between Texas Tech and LSU will feature a pair of NFL running back prospects on display for the national television audience. But what might surprise most of the nation is that one of those ball carriers, DeAndre Washington plays for Texas Tech.

LSU sophomore tailback Leonard Fournette is a superstar and for good reason. In 2015, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound monster set a SEC record by rushing for 200 yards in three consecutive games on his way to an NCAA best 1,741 rushing yards.

Yet the other star running back in the Texas Bowl has more to gain than perhaps any player on either team. With a second straight season of over 1,000 yards rushing, Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington has forced his way into the 2016 NFL Draft conversation.

Though not a physical anomaly like his LSU counterpart, the 5-foot-8, 200-pound Washington led the Big 12 with 1,455 yards rushing in 2015 while also scoring 14 touchdowns. That is quite the accomplishment considering Washington plays in Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense, which threw over 40 passes per game this year.

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Yet, despite being the Big 12’s leading rusher, Washington has not received the national press that other Big 12 backs like Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon or Baylor’s Shock Linwood have. Unlike these other Big 12 runners, Washington has not found himself playing for a top-10 team that is featured on national television every week.

So the Texas Bowl could be Washington’s statement game to a national television audience against a blue-blood program. But can the Texas Tech running game find success against an LSU rush defense that ranked 24th in the nation by allowing only 131.5 yards per game?

While the statistics for LSU’s defense are impressive, the Tigers’ rush defense has not been impenetrable in 2015. LSU lost three games in a row prior to defeating Texas A&M in the regular season finale and during that losing streak the Tigers gave up an average of 233.6 yards per game on the ground.

Now one must keep in mind that these three losses came to Alabama (whose running back and Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry ran for 210 yards), Arkansas (whose NFL prospect at running back, Alex Collins ran for 141 yards) and Ole Miss, which was one game away from winning the SEC West.

But Washington is no slouch in his own right. The do-everything back for Texas Tech eclipsed the 100-yard mark six times in 2015 including a career-high 248 yards against Kansas State. On 233 carries in the regular season, Washington averaged 6.5 yards per carry, higher than Perine’s 6.1, Fournette’s 6.4, Collins’ 5.6 and Henry’s 5.8.

Furthermore, Washington will be running behind an offensive line that boasts two all-Big 12 selections, left tackle LeRaven Clark (1st team) and guard Alfredo Morales (2nd-team).

Another measure of the effectiveness of the Texas Tech offensive line came in the form of praise for center Jared Kaster who was named as one of the 11-best college football players in the nation according to advanced statistical analysis performed by Washington Post and writer Rivers McCown. Link

The trio of Clark, Morales and Kaster has combined for 123 collegiate starts making the Texas Tech offensive line one of the most experienced units in America. Meanwhile, the 2015 LSU defense was not as acclaimed as some previous LSU defenses have been.

The only two members of the Tigers’ defense to receive all-SEC honors are in the secondary, sophomore safety Jamal Adams and junior corner Tre’Davious Whiten(both being named 2-md team all-SEC). No member of the LSU front seven garnered all conference recognition, which is not to say that the Tigers’ are a woeful against the run as are the Red Raiders but they can be run on.

When the Red Raiders and the Tigers square off on Tuesday night, the Texas Tech passing attack will receive most of the hype. But DeAndre Washington might be the most important member of the Texas Tech offense because if he is effective on the ground he will be able to keep the offense ahead of the chains.

With quarterback Pat Mahomes playing in his first career bowl game, Kliff Kingsbury will feel much better if he can rely on Washington to put Mahomes in manageable third down situations that allow Mahomes to utilize his legs as well as his arm to keep drives alive.

Plus, the more Washington pounds the LSU defense, the more Fournette must sit on the sidelines. Of course, Texas Tech is not going to turn into the Iowa Hawkeyes and play ball control football but its offense is at its best when Washington is the piston that drives the engine.

While Fournette is the unquestioned star in the Texas Bowl, do not count out DeAndre Washington. The senior playing his final game for Texas Tech is not only trying to leave his legacy with the program but also has an opportunity to enhance his NFL Draft stock in what will be the biggest national stage on which he has appeared all season.

Next: Three advantages Texas Tech has over LSU

The former 3-star high school prospect from Missouri City, TX has steadily made himself into the best running back of the Air Raid era of Texas Tech football. Now, if DeAndre Washington can steal the show from Fournette, Texas Tech will be in great shape to beat the Tigers in Houston to end his great career.