LSU vs Texas a&m : A lot is at stake for No. 7 LSU and No. 22 Texas A&M when the two proud programs square off at Kyle Field on Saturday. The post-Thanksgiving matchup, and soon to be rivalry, has been one-sided since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012. Including a Cotton Bowl game before their arrival, LSU has won seven in a row.
That will help create a rivalry when two teams are as geographically close to one another as they are. It means frequent head-to-head battles on the recruiting trail with both crossing state lines into enemy territory.
I think this turns into a real rivalry down the road for LSU, the kind that administrators in Baton Rouge and Fayetteville tried to create with The Golden Boot Award. I see an LSU-A&M series turning into one on the same level as LSU and Ole Miss back in the 1950s, 60s and into the 70s.
Jimbo Fisher needs a signature win this season, and this is the biggest he can get. It is the difference in a 7-5 or 8-4 season. An 8-4 finish would look a lot better to those looking for their return on $7.5 million a year.
Ed Orgeron could notch LSU’s first 10-win regular-season finish since 2013 and his 19 regular-season wins matches the best back-to-back finishes since 2012-13. The prize at the end of the night is that New year’s Six Bowl LSU can wrap up with a victory.
There’s also that other little thing of both head coaches wanting to stick it to the other in some capacity.
LSU flirted with Jimbo Fisher twice for the headman’s spot – once in 2015 and again in 2016 when Joe Alleva finally pulled the trigger and fired Les Miles. The second time around Orgeron landed his dream job and the Tigers have fared better than both teams Fisher led.
Orgeron knows he wasn’t the first choice by many but has done a nice job with a New Year’s Six Bowl game a sign the program he is leading is headed in an upward trajectory.
Let’s look at some injury updates, keys to victory and predictions for Saturday’s matchup in College Station at 6:30 p.m. CT on the SEC Network.
LSU’s defense took a big hit when Orgeron announced starting defensive lineman Breiden Fehokoand starting cornerback Kristian Fulton were out. Fehoko is done for the year and Fulton is questionable for the bowl game.
Leading receiver Justin Jefferson is more probable than questionable but is definitely not 100 percent. Expect to see more of Terrace Marshall and Ja’Marr Chase. Freshman defensive back Kelvin Joseph will be a game-time decision, but the secondary gets a boost by the return of safeties John Battle and Todd Harris.
After that, the usual suspects are out – tight end Thaddeus Moss (foot), outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson (knee), tight end Jamal Pettigrew (knee), offensive guard Ed Ingram (suspension) and linebacker Tyler Taylor (suspension).
GigEm247 insider Jeff Tarpley provided the following injury update on the Aggies.
A&M boss Jimbo Fisher said on the SEC Teleconference call Wednesday morning that linebacker Otaro Alaka had gone through concussion protocol and would play on Saturday night. He’s been one of the Aggies’ best defenders all season in terms of reading keys and playing with technique and he would have been a huge loss (he’s the team leader in both tackles and tackles for loss).
They’re missing kicker Daniel LaCamera but freshman Seth Small has been adequate in his place and has good range with multiple 50-yard kicks. Otherwise, the Aggies are as healthy as they have been all season in terms of the 22 starters that they trotted out at the beginning of the season.
Running the football against an A&M defense ranked No. 2 at stopping it will not be easy, but LSU has to do enough to keep the Aggies guessing. Joe Burrow has not kept the ball much and could be an added weapon if A&M crashes down on ball carriers Nick Brossette and Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
Brossette is tied with Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams for the league lead with 13 touchdowns and is 139 yards away from hitting that 1,000-yard mark. Only two running backs in the conference eclipsed the mark so far and Williams is one with his SEC-leading 1,326 rushing yards.
Burrow made some big runs this season against Georgia and Ole Miss. That would be nice to get a big one like those but even some that move the chains and keep A&M’s outside rushers honest would be a big help and keep them from pinning their ears back.
In both of LSU’s losses – Alabama and Florida – Burrow was sacked five times each. That accounted for 10 of the 27 on the season which is tied for 11th in the SEC for most allowed. A&M’s defensive end tandem of Landis Durham and KeKe Kingsley are both ranked in the top 10 in the league with 6.5 and 6.0 sacks, respectively. They will present a lot of problems for LSU’s offensive tackles, particularly Austin Deculus on the right side.
If LSU’s front gives Burrow time and his receivers hold on to the ball, LSU should have some opportunities against the weaker area of the Aggie defense that ranks No. 104 nationally at 261 passing yards a game allowed.
Since the Alabama game, Burrow has completed 35-of-49 for 502 yards and three touchdowns. Yes, it was Arkansas and Rice, but this A&M defense is not much better at defending the pass on the back end.
Depth has been a concern for LSU’s defensive line all season and that was before it lost Fehoko. It could not have come at a worst time with Williams and an A&M offense that runs for 201 yards a game. The Tigers have to get quality reps from Neil Farrell and Tyler Shelvin in relief of the starters and Ed Alexander needs to keep playing as well as he has at nose tackle.
Along with Williams’ 120 yards a game, Kellen Mond adds 31 yards from the quarterback position adding another element to the Aggie ground game. Mond hits 59 percent of his passes for 243 yards a game with a 17 to 8 touchdown to interception ratio. He can cause problems with his run/pass ability on the edge and tight end Jace Sternberger is a huge weapon with 42 receptions for 729 yards and eight scores that Devin White, Grant Delpit and Jacob Phillips must account for.
LSU’s generated eight sacks the last two weeks and Texas A&M is last in the SEC with Aggie quarterbacks going down a league-worst 33 times. If LSU can get some early pressure and get inside Mond’s head and get the Aggies behind the chains, it would allow Dave Aranda to dial up some extra pressure.