Texas A&M and LSU are out of the SEC West title picture, but Saturday’s matchup between these two teams could be one of Week 13’s most entertaining games.
Both teams should be rested after bye weeks last Saturday, and there’s added importance due to bowl positioning.
At 8-2, Texas A&M is still alive for a BCS bowl. If the Aggies win out, they will likely play in the Sugar Bowl as the replacement for the SEC champion. Winning the final two games of the year isn’t a guarantee for Texas A&M, especially with back-to-back road trips.
LSU is likely out of the mix for a BCS bowl, but the Tigers have a chance to finish 2013 on a high note. And most importantly, with wins against Texas A&M and Arkansas, LSU will earn its fifth straight season of at least nine victories.
LSU leads the overall series 28-20-3. The Tigers have won the last two meetings against Texas A&M, with the Aggies’ last victory over LSU coming in 1995. This is only the second meeting between LSU and Texas A&M as SEC foes. This emerging rivalry will get some extra attention in 2014, as these programs are scheduled to play on Thanksgiving night in College Station.
Texas A&M at LSU
Kickoff: 3:30 ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: LSU -4.5
Three Things to Watch
Johnny Manziel vs. LSU’s defense
LSU’s defense managed to solve Texas A&M’s high-powered offense last year. The Tigers held the Aggies to just 19 points (second-lowest total of the season), while quarterback Johnny Manziel recorded only 303 total yards and no touchdowns. LSU sacked Manziel three times and recorded eight tackles for a loss on the Aggies’ offense. While the Tigers kept Texas A&M’s offense in check last year, this unit is undergoing some major renovations. Through 10 games, LSU’s defense is having an uncharacteristic season, ranking ninth in the SEC against the run and recording only 12 sacks in conference play. The Tigers’ secondary has fared better than the rush defense, ranking sixth in the SEC in pass defense, but this unit has allowed 10 passing scores in six conference games. Manziel is still a dangerous runner (5.6 ypc), but the sophomore has made strides as a passer and is more patient in the pocket in 2013. LSU’s defense was able to use its speed and athleticism on the line to keep Manziel in the pocket last year and limit his rushing attempts. With all of the personnel losses in the front seven, can the Tigers replicate the same gameplan? Or will an improved passing game from Manziel result in more big plays to receiver Mike Evans?
Texas A&M’s run defense vs. Jeremy Hill
Texas A&M’s rush defense has been gashed by opposing teams all season. Will that change on Saturday? The Aggies are allowing 223.5 rushing yards per game in SEC play. Auburn rushed for 379 yards against Texas A&M on Oct. 19, and only one opponent in conference action has been held under 100 yards by the Aggies (Vanderbilt). LSU goes four-deep at running back, and J.C. Copeland is one of the best fullbacks in the nation. Sophomore Jeremy Hill leads the team with 964 yards and 13 scores, but Terrence Magee (407 yards) and Kenny Hilliard (271 yards) should expect to see snaps on Saturday. Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder has a tough choice. Does he load the box to slow down LSU’s rushing attack? If the Aggies devote more attention to stop the run, the secondary will be vulnerable against the Tigers’ receiving corps.
LSU’s wide receivers versus Texas A&M’s secondary
These two teams aren’t short on potential All-SEC talent, but Texas A&M’s defense against LSU’s offense is a mismatch. New coordinator Cam Cameron has made a big difference in improving the Tigers’ offense, which includes the development of quarterback Zach Mettenberger. The senior has five of his seven interceptions in two out of his last three games. However, Mettenberger wasn’t awful against Alabama (16 of 23, 241 yards) and was outstanding in a 44-41 loss against Georgia in September (23 of 37, 372 yards, three touchdowns). In addition to Cameron’s play-calling and Mettenberger’s development, another key reason for the improvement in LSU’s passing attack is the one-two punch at receiver in Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. This duo has combined for 114 catches for 2,023 yards and 16 touchdowns this season. Texas A&M’s secondary has struggled just as much as the run defense, ranking last in SEC-only games in pass yards allowed per game (278.7). Can cornerbacks De’Vante Harris and Deshazor Everett matchup with Beckham and Landry? And their job could be even tougher if the pass rush doesn’t get pressure on Mettenberger.
Key Players: Isaiah Golden, NG/Darian Claiborne, LB, Texas A&M
This true freshman duo on Texas A&M’s defense will eventually contend for All-SEC honors. However, in 2013, this inexperienced duo is what the Aggies have to rely on to slow opposing ground attacks. Golden and Claiborne have held their own this season, with Claiborne ranking second on the team with 69 tackles. Stopping LSU’s rushing attack starts up front with Golden and continues with Claiborne in the middle. If Golden can get a good push, the Aggies can slow down the Tigers’ ground game. It’s a tough assignment, but Golden and Claiborne could hold the key to a Texas A&M victory.
Behind quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans, Texas A&M is going to score. The Aggies have scored 50 points in three consecutive games and should push 40 this Saturday. However, with Texas A&M’s struggling defense, Manziel essentially has to play a mistake-free game and score every time the offense has the ball. LSU will move the ball easily on the Aggies, but the difference in the game is the Tigers’ defense. This isn’t a vintage LSU defense. However, there’s still some talent, which earns just enough stops for the Tigers to win on Saturday.
Prediction: LSU 38, Texas A&M 34