Leading into the 2015 season, the Texas A&M versus LSU Tigers matchup had the build of an intriguing chess match between former employee (John Chavis) and former employer (Les Miles). While the battle of wits between LSU coach Les Miles and Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis will still be in play, the recent media storm over Miles' potential ouster from Baton Rouge has certainly overshadowed the SEC talent and actual on-field matchup on Saturday night.
LSU started the season 7-0 but have dropped its last three games to Alabama (30-16), Arkansas (31-14), and Ole Miss (38-17). During that three-game stretch, one-time Heisman Trophy frontrunner and sophomore running back Leonard Fournette has been held to 230 total yards on the ground with just two scores. The 77-yard per game rushing average for the talented tailback is a far cry from the 204 yards per game average he was carrying in mid-October. LSU ascended to the No. 2 team in the nation but are now out of the AP Top 25 rankings.
The Aggies have also fallen from grace after entering their Oct. 17 matchup against Alabama as the No. 9 team in the nation. A&M has wins over two ranked teams but lost favor after back-to-back defeats against Alabama (41-23) and Ole Miss (23-3). The 12th Man has shown patience with head coach Kevin Sumlin and adding John Chavis as the coordinator has given a year or two reprieve from the proverbial hot seat conversation.
Texas A&M at LSU
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: LSU -5.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Texas A&M’s Offense
The Aggies started out the season motoring on offense, with 28 points (Arkansas) scored their lowest mark during their five-game winning streak to open 2015. During the mid-year lull that produced a 1-3 record with the lone win coming against a down trodden South Carolina team (35-28), the Aggies offense lost footing only averaging 18 points per contest. Some of the dip may have been an undisclosed injury to quarterback Kyle Allen. The sophomore was replaced by dynamic true freshman Kyler Murray against the Gamecocks.
Murray and Allen split time under center against Western Carolina, but Allen took command of the Aggies' offense in A&M’s last outing against Vanderbilt. The Aggies won 25-0 on the road, and Allen delivered a solid performance for Sumlin, throwing for 336 yards with one score and no interceptions. If there was a concern for the sophomore quarterback, he only completed 50 percent of his passes against the Commodores. Getting the offense clicking again with arguably the best receiver corps in the nation is a must.
2. LSU’s Rushing Attack vs. Texas A&M’s Rush Defense
Despite Leonard Fournette’s recent dip in production, which coincides with playing better defenses and the lack of a consistent passing game, he is still one of the best running backs in the nation. The Louisiana native still leads the nation in rushing with 1,582 yards - 36 yards better than Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and in one less game played.
Chavis has done wonders with Texas A&M's defense overall but stopping the run is not a strong suit for the Aggies. This unit is one of the worst in the nation, allowing 206 yards per game - just what Les Miles and Leonard Fournette need right now.
3. Aggies RB Tra Carson vs. LSU QB Brandon Harris
Each team has a perceived weakness but which team’s weakness is better than the other team’s? Aggies’ running back Tra Carson has quietly put together a solid season, just 10 yards shy of the 1,000-yard rushing mark with six touchdowns scored.
Brandon Harris has been solid in his own right, passing for 1,821 yards with 12 touchdowns against four picks and completing 55 percent of his passes. Harris’ weapons and offensive line are better than what Carson has opening holes for him, especially in the red zone and on short-yardage plays.
LSU does a good job of limiting the run by allowing just 136 yards per game. However, the Tigers have struggled to stop opposing passing attacks, giving up 216 yards per contest in a year where quarterback play has been average at best in the SEC.
Statistically, Texas A&M is among the best in the nation at stopping the pass, only permitting 168 yard per game - ranked No. 8 nationally. Both teams will have their hands full trying to stop the offensive strength of their opponents knowing that the other’s strength is their weakness.
LSU has to take the air out of the ball and control the pace of the game by allowing Fournette and company to control the line of scrimmage. If Fournette and the Tigers' offensive line wins the battle up front, that will allow the Tigers to limit Harris' time in the pocket and prevent this offense from having to throw 35-40 times. The Aggies average three sacks a game and Harris tends to hold onto the ball too long at times.
The Aggies have too much firepower on offense, but LSU may have more to play for if saving Les Miles’ job is a motivating factor in the locker room. Chavis knows Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s tendencies.
Prediction: Texas A&M 38, LSU 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. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.