LSU finishes below .500 for first time since 1999 after getting blown out by Kansas State in bizarre Texas Bowl

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HOUSTON — The LSU football team played one of the strangest games in program history Tuesday night in the Texas Bowl against Kansas State.

The Tigers only had 39 scholarship players available and started a wide receiver, Jontre Kirklin, at quarterback. Even the most hardcore of fans would've had trouble recognizing some of the names on the backs of LSU's white, purple and gold jerseys.

With that in mind, the outcome was predictable. LSU (6-7) lost to Kansas State (8-5) in unspectacular fashion, 42-20, and finish the season with the program's first losing record since 1999. For Kansas State, coach Chris Klieman became the first man not named Bill Snyder to lead the Wildcats to victory in a bowl game.

Here are a few takeaways from the Tigers' final game of the 2021-22 campaign.

Jontre Kirklin's first start

With freshman Garrett Nussmeier sitting out the game in order to maintain his redshirt status, LSU turned to Kirklin, the senior wide receiver, as its starting quarterback.

Predictably, Kirklin struggled as the Tigers rarely attempted a pass in the first half. He had 4 passing yards until he found Jaraya Jenkins for a 23-yard score in the back of the end zone that cut the LSU deficit to 14 with seconds left in the half.

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The offense was predicated on Kirklin's abilities as a runner, with freshman Corey Kiner and sophomore Josh Williams splitting carries and fake handoffs in the backfield. But LSU's wildcat attack couldn't keep its defense off the field, dooming a unit that was already low on bodies.

The game was already well out of hand for LSU by the time Kirklin threw his second interception of the night toward the end of the third quarter.

Prior to Tuesday, the last time Kirklin – who was LSU's scout-team quarterback in 2019 – took snaps at quarterback in a game was the 2017 Louisiana Class 3A state title game with Lutcher High, a game his team won. As a senior that season, Kirklin threw for 2,543 yards and 29 touchdowns.

LSU's offense comes alive late in the first half but doesn't last

A 13-play, 75-yard drive to close the opening half from LSU was instrumental in keeping the Tigers in the game.

LSU's rushing attack, led by Kirklin, came to life. The senior rushed for 34 yards and capped the drive with his first completion of the night for more than 2 yards — finding Jenkins in the end zone to finish it off.

With the ball to start the second half, the Tigers were in a great spot to flip the script. But LSU went three-and-out, handing the ball back to Kansas State.

The Wildcats scored swiftly, taking a 28-7 lead with 8:46 left in the third quarter. Without much of a passing game, LSU's path to victory had essentially been shut.

Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn crosses the goal line to score a touchdown as LSU safety Jay Ward tries to make the tackle during the second quarter of the Texas Bowl.
Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn crosses the goal line to score a touchdown as LSU safety Jay Ward tries to make the tackle during the second quarter of the Texas Bowl.

LSU struggles on defense

It was a tough night for LSU's defense, particularly on third and fourth down.

The Wildcats ran 29 plays before LSU even started its second drive of the night, winning the time of possession battle 15:03 to 3:19 at the time. They converted six of eight third downs in the first half and both fourth-down attempts as LSU failed to force a Kansas State punt.

LSU's defense wasn't a total pushover, often forcing the Wildcats into third-and-long situations. But the Tigers failed to capitalize.

In the second half, the defense got tired. LSU had trouble even forcing the Wildcats into third-down situations and surrendered touchdowns on Kansas State's opening drive.

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: LSU football falls to Kansas State in Texas Bowl, posts losing record