Texas A&M and LSU have played 50 times, but the 2012 meeting will be the first as SEC foes. These two campuses are separated by less than 400 miles, and this is a crucial game in the fertile recruiting area of Texas and Louisiana.
So far, Texas A&M’s debut season in the SEC has been a success. The Aggies suffered a three-point loss to Florida in the opener but have won their last two conference games. Texas A&M rallied to beat Ole Miss on Oct. 6 and destroyed Arkansas 58-10 on Sept. 29.
LSU suffered a 14-6 loss to Florida two weeks ago but rebounded with a 23-21 victory over South Carolina last Saturday. Not only was the win over the Gamecocks a huge confidence boost, but also the Tigers were able to keep pace with Alabama in the SEC West standings.
Storylines to Watch in LSU vs. Texas A&M
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel vs. LSU’s defense
It’s not often a redshirt freshman quarterback comes into the SEC and makes a run at the Heisman Trophy but that’s exactly what Manziel has done through the first seven weeks of the season. Johnny Football leads the SEC with 676 rushing yards and is tied with South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore for the No. 1 spot in rushing touchdowns with 10. Manziel is completing 67.4 percent of his throws and ranks third in the conference with an average of 280 passing yards a game. Although the redshirt freshman has been one of this season’s breakout players and one of the top-10 candidates to win the Heisman after seven weeks, Saturday’s matchup against LSU is easily his toughest assignment. The Tigers are the fastest defense Texas A&M has played since the season opener against Florida and rank second nationally in pass defense and total yards allowed per game. Manziel is certainly a special player and will have his moments against the Tigers’ defense. However, expect LSU to counter with several different looks to confuse Manziel, as well as keeping him in the pocket to not allow him to get to the edge to make plays with his feet. Helping Manziel’s cause on offense is two NFL tackles in Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. These two linemen will be in charge of keeping two of the best pass-rush ends (Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo) away from Manziel.
Can LSU get its passing game on track?
It’s no secret the Tigers build their offense on a punishing ground attack and rely on timely plays from their passing game to keep the chains moving. After watching Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee struggle last season, most LSU fans expected Zach Mettenberger to be an upgrade at quarterback. However, that hasn’t been the case, as the junior college recruit ranks 10th in the conference in SEC-only games with 158.3 yards per game and ranks 12th in passing efficiency. Although LSU doesn’t want to throw it 40 times a game, as Louisiana Tech showed against Texas A&M last week, there are holes in the Aggies’ secondary. Texas A&M ranks 107th nationally against the pass, but its defensive line has helped to make up for some of the struggles by registering 3.2 sacks a game. Mettenberger may not top 200 passing yards in this game, but he needs to be efficient and play mistake-free ball to give LSU a chance to win.
Texas A&M’s defensive line vs. LSU’s offensive line
LSU’s offensive line was a huge concern going into last week’s game against South Carolina, but the unit responded with one of its best showings of the season. With Alex Hurst and Chris Faulk out – two potential All-American tackles – the Tigers gashed the Gamecocks for 258 yards and two scores. This unit will be under pressure once again, as it will be greeted by a hostile environment in College Station, along with one of the nation’s most underrated defensive ends in Damontre Moore. The junior has 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for a loss through the first six weeks and will be a tough assignment for LSU left tackle Josh Dworaczyk. Texas A&M is allowing 147.7 rushing yards per game in SEC play, which is one area the Tigers will look to exploit. LSU has one of the deepest backfields in college football and received a boost from true freshman Jeremy Hill in the win over South Carolina last week. The Aggies aren’t bad against the run, but this is one area LSU should be able to take advantage of on Saturday afternoon.
With a raucous home crowd for Texas A&M, LSU needs to weather the early storm and avoid any big mistakes in the first quarter. The Aggies need quarterback Johnny Manziel to be a playmaker but also need a big day from running backs Ben Malena and Christine Michael. If the Tigers control the line of scrimmage and keep Manziel contained in the pocket, the Aggies will struggle to get their offense on track.
When LSU has the ball, look for the Aggies to load the line of scrimmage and force Mettenberger to win this game through the air. The Tigers will have opportunities to make plays in the passing game but need to contain Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore.
Expect a tight game into the fourth quarter, but LSU’s edge in depth will show, as it will take control of the trenches in the second half and wear down the Aggies.
Final Prediction: LSU 27, Texas A&M 20
by Steven Lassan
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