When No. 22 Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3 SEC) kicks off against No. 25 LSU (6-4, 4-3) on Thanksgiving night another “coaches’ hot seat” bowl will be played out on the field that could shape the landscape of the SEC West for years to come.
For the second year in a row, LSU’s outcome against the Aggies could shape which coach will be on the sidelines next season. Last season, Les Miles was the head coach who was unsure of his status going forward, but a win against A&M bought him another season... or at least four games into the next season. Interim head coach Ed Orgeron is in a similar situation hoping to coach his way into a permanent gig with the Tigers. A regular season-ending win against the Aggies on the road could go a long way to helping the promoted defensive line coach get the “interim” dropped from his current title.
On the other sideline, Kevin Sumlin’s status with the Aggies seems iffy leaning towards safe, but a loss to LSU at home, especially a bad loss, could be all the fans, boosters, alumni, and administration can take from a coach who struggles to make it through November without falling apart. Under Sumlin over the past four seasons, A&M is now 7-8 in November, putting a pall on what started out as promising campaigns.
How LSU takes the field will be an indication of how the team views Orgeron. The Tigers are coming off a 16-10 loss to Florida that very easily could have been a comfortable home win. The Tigers totaled 423 yards of offense but failed to make the most of its red zone opportunities. A fourth-and-goal misread by sophomore running back Derrius Guice on LSU’s last play secured the SEC East title for the underdog Gators.
The Aggies are coming off a 23-10 non-conference win over UTSA. A&M has been slowed by various injuries but got Myles Garrett back last week against the Road Runners. The All-SEC defensive end now has 8.5 sacks on the season after collecting 4.5 against UTSA.
LSU at Texas A&M
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 24 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: LSU -5
Three Things to Watch
1. Will LSU be Motivated?
The Tigers have another game coming their way with a bowl invite, but could have a new head coach named at that point. With all of the talent on the roster, some could take the field just hoping to stay healthy knowing a NFL career will begin next year. This could be the last time this roster plays together as a team.
So which LSU team shows up? The team that thumped Arkansas 38-10 or the one that looked lethargic against Florida? If the Tigers roll into College Station ready to play, this could be a runaway win. If LSU goes through the motions, a fifth defeat will be had.
2. Can Texas A&M Stop LSU’s Rushing Attack?
The Tigers are one of the best in the nation on the ground, averaging 232 yards per game. Texas A&M has a below-average rush defense, allowing 179 yards per contest. The last big offensive line with great running backs the Aggies faced was Alabama. The Crimson Tide rolled for 287 rushing yards on 57 carries. Over their last two games, LSU has dinged Arkansas for 390 yards on the ground and Florida for 219. Expect another big game on the ground for LSU, even with Leonard Fournette still hobbled by an ankle injury and stud defensive end Myles Garrett back and healthy for the Aggies.
3. Can Texas A&M Overcome the November Slide?
An eight-win season in college football is a good season. An eight-win season in the SEC West is a very good season, yet it might not be good enough. Kevin Sumlin can point to various injuries for part of the Aggies’ second-half slide but excuses can only last so long. New starting quarterback Jake Hubenak had a nice game against UTSA, connecting on 19 of his 32 pass attempts for 248 yards and a touchdown. But his first start of the season resulted in a stunning 29-28 loss to Ole Miss two weeks ago. Sumlin needs his junior signal-caller to step up his game against the Tigers.
LSU has one of the best run defenses in the nation, limiting teams to just 115 rushing yards per game. If the Tigers have a weakness on defense, it’s against the pass (192 ypg), although that’s still good enough to rank among the top 25 units in the FBS. If Sumlin wants to tamp down some of the talk about his job security, he needs to help Hubenak to find a way to move the ball against a stout defense.
The outcome of the game depends on which LSU team shows up. The Tigers are as talented as any other team in the nation not named Alabama. If LSU plays sloppy, all of that talent becomes very average.
Texas A&M’s defense continues to falter in the second half of seasons during Kevin Sumlin’s tenure. With more and more discussion surrounding the head coach’s future coming up the Aggies fan base, this is not the best matchup for Sumlin’s team in this situation.
On the others sideline, the LSU players love Ed Orgeron and want to do what they can to help him get the “interim” dropped from his title. The Tigers bounce back from last week’s stunning home loss to Florida in style while kicking up the temperature on Sumlin’s hot seat a few degrees.
Prediction: LSU 35, Texas A&M 17
— 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. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.