How quickly life can change, especially on the SEC gridiron, is on display Saturday evening when the LSU Tigers head west to take on the Texas A&M Aggies. A year ago, LSU was on top of the world, ranked No. 2 in the nation, when the unranked Aggies headed to Death Valley. Now, the Aggies are the top-5 team looking for an entrance into the SEC Championship Game and preferably an at-large selection into the College Football Playoff while LSU is seemingly just trying to make it to the finish line.
Returning from a three-week layoff due to COVID restrictions, the Tigers (3-3) got back on the field in Week 12. LSU needed assistance from an Arkansas team diminished by players on the sidelines due to a virus outbreak and a little help from the SEC refs to escape Fayetteville with a 27-24 win. The Razorbacks outgained LSU 443 yards to 419, but the Tigers defense was able to get off the field when it counted and denied the Hogs on all 10 third-down conversion attempts.
The Aggies (5-1) should take Kyle Field with a little extra spring in their step after a two-week rest after missing their last scheduled outing against Ole Miss (Nov. 21). A&M has been on a roll since its Oct. 3 loss to Alabama (52-24) taking apart then-No. 4 Florida, Mississippi State, Arkansas, and South Carolina. Until the Aggies dismantling of South Carolina in Columbia (48-3), A&M has shown a tendency to play even with their competition not showing the ability to put games away early. This young LSU squad has too much raw talent to be allowed to hang around for four quarters.
LSU at No. 5 Texas A&M
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Texas A&M -14.5
When LSU Has the Ball
A win is a win in the SEC, but the Tigers are in trouble. Arkansas did not dress out six of its defensive linemen, with two defenders getting their first start of the season in the Hogs' 3-man front. LSU tried to wear down Arkansas' defense by running the ball 49 times but only gained 148 yards. That three yards per carry average must improve for a shot at a victory against the Aggies. Tyrion Davis-Price had a solid game for LSU, carrying the ball 24 times for 104 yards with the team's lone score on the ground.
The maturation of quarterback TJ Finley continued to show great upside against the Hogs. Having his best game yet in three collegiate starts, the true freshman threw for 271 yards with two scores avoiding a pick while only taking one sack. Finley was able to find his top targets, receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. and true freshman tight end Arik Gilbert. Marshall added to his season tally with seven receptions for 57 yards while Gilbert secured five for 55. Racey McMath and Jaray Jenkins each hauled in a touchdown pass from Finley.
Seeing A&M's defense is a nightmare matchup for this LSU squad. The Aggies are holding teams down to 95.7 yards per game, second in the conference behind Georgia. However, A&M is weaker on defense against the pass, giving way to 242.5 per game. Against South Carolina, A&M tightened up limiting the Gamecocks to 100 passing yards and 50 rushing yards.
When Texas A&M Has the Ball
Quarterback Kellen Mond may not be having the senior season he envisioned over the summer, but he is getting the job done in College Station consistently. Mond has completed 64.3 percent of his attempts with a fantastic 16:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. In big games, head coach Jimbo Fisher lets the offense flow through Mond, and he produced 300-plus passing games against Alabama and Florida. If called upon, Mond can deliver against this LSU defense.
One of the reasons Mond is not among the league leader in passing yards is that he has a very talented tailback in sophomore Isaiah Spiller to help carry the offense. Spiller is fourth in the SEC in rushing yards (643) while sporting a 6.0-yard per carry average. The Aggies' offensive line is big and physical, which aided in Spiller going over the 100-yard mark in four of the team's six games. Against USC, Spiller turned in a 131-yard rushing performance while catching two for 46 more yards.
As the roles between the two squads have reversed dramatically from one year to the next, LSU is not quite the same defensive team taking the field a year ago under then coordinator Dave Aranda. The Tigers are among the worst in the FBS division, with teams gaining 472.7 yards per game. The 443 total yards given to a depleted Arkansas team with only 56 available players helped lower their season's numbers. The glaring problem is against the pass: opposing teams slinging it around for 335.8 yards per contest.
Texas A&M fans have been here before, many times before. Come November, a propped-up record starts taking losses getting into the heart of the SEC season. The beasts on A&M schedule are in the rearview mirror, but there are still challenges ahead. If the Aggies are a contender, this LSU team should not be a hard-fought game. A&M cannot get caught looking ahead to No. 22 Auburn.
Prediction: Texas A&M 38, LSU 21
Podcast: Week 13 Preview and Predictions + Interview with Kirk Herbstreit
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.