The "Consternation in College Station" one year ago will be on the minds of all fans, players and coaches come Saturday when the Texas A&M Aggies head to Baton Rouge to take on the No. 2 LSU Tigers. LSU (11-0, 7-0 SEC) has already punched a ticket to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game to face Georgia, but the Aggies (7-4, 4-3) could collapse the foundation of the College Football Playoff picture for the Tigers if they produce another seven-overtime upset thriller.
Texas A&M has risen to the challenge before and came close to pulling off a shocking win last week taking No. 4 Georgia to the wire in a 19-13 loss in Athens. If the Aggie fan base arrives in Louisiana in a foul mood, there is a good reason. A&M statistically outplayed UGA on offense by netting 14 more total yards (274-260) and four more first downs (16-12), and one could argue they were the victim of SEC ref circumstances. The Aggies were called for seven penalties to the home team’s two, and there were plenty of bypassed opportunities to let the yellow flags fly.
After knocking off perennial SEC West mammoths Auburn and Alabama in back-to-back games, LSU has been on the proverbial easy street in runaway wins against Ole Miss (58-37) and Arkansas (56-20). Heisman Trophy heavyweight Joe Burrow and the Tigers got off to a slow start last week against the Hogs but turned it on for 21 points in both the second and third quarters. The Tigers offense was prolific again in Week 14, rolling for 612 yards of total offense.
Texas A&M at LSU
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: LSU -17.5
When Texas A&M Has the Ball
Kids who grow up throwing the ball around the yard dream of the type of game quarterback Kellen Mond had against LSU in 2018. The Aggies' signal-caller threw for 287 yards with six touchdowns and ran in another score. Mond's heroics included the game-tying 19-yard score to Quartney Davis to force extra frames along with four total scores in overtime, highlighted by a 17-yard game-winner to Davis. This season, Mond is the SEC’s third-highest ranked passer with 2,710 passing yards and 19 touchdowns and remains the main weapon that can upend LSU’s perfect season.
One weakness for the Aggies is the run game; Georgia held them to -2 rushing yards on 20 attempts. Freshman tailback Isaiah Spiller ran a team-high 11 times for seven yards, while Mond lost eight on nine carries. The poor performance by A&M took the team from an average of 175.0 rush yards per game down to 158.9. It was especially disappointing since Spiller appeared to be living up to the recruiting hype in the previous two contests; he clipped UTSA for 217 yards with three scores and South Carolina for 129. Mond needs the Aggies offensive line and Spiller to take the pressure off if an upset is to be had.
The Tigers do not have the menacing defense of year’s past, but this unit, collectively, is still very talented. As a whole, they allow 362.0 yards per game, which ranks 43rd in the FBS ranks out of 130 teams. The run defense is slightly stronger than the secondary, holding opponents to 129.3 rushing yards per game, and with the Tigers' offense being so prolific, the opposition has no choice but to throw the ball to keep up. This has helped foes move the ball downfield on the Tigers at a clip of 232.7 yards on average. The Aggies have a quartet of targets who are dangerous moving the chains in Jhamon Ausbon, Jalen Wydermyer, Kendrick Rogers, and Davis, but they lack that vertical threat who can truly stretch the opposition’s defense.
When LSU Has the Ball
As a traditional run-first team, no one would have guessed the Tigers would have the second-best passing attack in the nation this season. But they do. With Burrow leading the charge, LSU's 387.7 yards per game helps produce 48.5 points per contest. Burrow leads the SEC in all major passing categories including yards (4,014), completion rate (79 percent), and touchdowns (41).
The weapons working with Burrow are equally tough to stop in standout receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson along with running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Chase leads the SEC in yards (1,260) and touchdowns (15) with Jefferson close behind (1,037 yards, 12 touchdowns). Edwards' rise as a dominating back has been notable over the last four games, where he is averaging 149.8 yards with eight total rushing scores against SEC competition.
The college football world may not know it, but the Aggies have a very good defense. They have kept the opposition to 321.5 yards per game, ranked 21st nationally, and that comes despite playing four teams ranked in the top 10 (Clemson, Auburn, Alabama, and Georgia). The run defense may be highlighted by the play of linebacker Buddy Johnson, but the secondary has locked down the opposition to just 192.2 yards per game. A&M’s defense may put up a challenge to Burrow and Co., but playing against top-end defenses is nothing new after squaring off against Alabama, Florida, and Auburn.
Texas A&M’s best offensive performance in-conference this season came against Mississippi State when they won 49-30 at home. State’s offense nor defense is on par with LSU. A gentle reminder to all about the 74-72 seven-overtime win for A&M last season: LSU’s secondary was depleted with injuries with three players out, the Tigers' ground game was nonexistent, and the offense was not geared toward the pass as seen this year. Even Vegas had the Aggies as a three-point favorite. This one will end up in comfortable territory for the home team.
Prediction: LSU 38, Texas A&M 24
— 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.