College football fans heading to Baton Rouge on Saturday to see the Texas A&M Aggies (7-4, 4-3 SEC) square off against the LSU Tigers (8-3, 5-2) are in for an SEC West treat. In what should be a defensive struggle punctuated by explosive offensive plays, both coaches are fighting to push their squads forward in the face of some adversity and with quality bowl berths looming.
The Aggies trailed 24-21 at halftime on the road last week against Ole Miss but rallied for a 31-24 win. The defense stepped up in the second half for A&M, putting the clamps on one of the SEC’s elite passing offenses and holding the Rebels to 66 second-half yards. For the game, the Aggies held the Rebels to 189 yards passing but did allow 202 rush yards. Redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Starkel had another solid game for the Aggies, completing 19-of-32 passes for 272 yards with a touchdown and running for a score.
LSU survived a bad-weather game on the road against Tennessee in Week 12, heading home with a 30-10 win. The victory was aided by two Tennessee muffed punts and a big fourth-down stop leading to a touchdown. Otherwise, Tennessee played even with the Tigers in the cold, driving rain.
The subplot in this one involves A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and LSU head coach Ed Orgeron. Orgeron was 5-2 last season as LSU’s interim head coach. This season, a 2-2 start with losses to Mississippi State and Troy had the fan base worried, but wins over Florida, Auburn, Ole Miss and Arkansas have eased the tension. Outside of beating Arkansas every year, Sumlin has had trouble winning in the SEC West, especially in November. The Aggies are 3-3 in the backstretch of their season and need a rare win against LSU to end the season on a high note.
Texas A&M at LSU
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 25 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: LSU -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can LSU avoid long third-down situations?
One thing Texas A&M does really well on defense is get after the opposition’s quarterback. The Aggies are tops in the SEC in sacks with 36, led by Landis Durham (8.5) and Otaro Alaka (5). In inclement weather against Tennessee, Tigers senior quarterback Danny Etling was not asked to do much, but when called upon he did his job, hitting 11-of-15 passes for 81 yards without a pick. He added a new wrinkle to his game as a dual threat, rushing nine times for 42 yards with a score. Etling is completing 60 percent of his passes this season but struggles against better defensive teams. Against Florida, Auburn and Alabama, Etling’s completion percentage dropped to an average of 52 percent.
2. Can Texas A&M stop Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams?
The season may not have gone as planned for Guice (above, right), but the junior has passed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second time in his career, becoming just the fifth Tiger to do so. In the pouring rain against the Volunteers, Guice was a workhorse, netting 97 yards on 24 carries with a score. Over the last three games, Williams, a senior, has seen a reduction in his carries but an increase in his yards per carry, covering 8.8 yards on average.
The Aggies rush defense has been middle of the road this year, allowing 157 yards per game on average. In five of the past six games, the Aggies have allowed 202 yards or more with a season-high 242 yards given up against Florida.
3. The production of Nick Starkel
LSU is once again earning the Defensive Back University moniker on the field, holding teams to 182 yards per game through the air, 18th best in the nation. The team has just eight interceptions, led by Andraez Williams with four, but the Tigers have broken up 56 passes and defended 64. Williams and Donte Jackson welcome the challenge of a talented passer like A&M's Starkel. Starkel has seen action in five games this season after being held out of six games with an ankle injury. In limited snaps against Mississippi State and Auburn, Starkel was average, completing 53 and 50 percent of his passes, respectively. LSU is a beast on defense and gets after the quarterback nearly as well as the Aggies, with 33 sacks on the season.
In this day and age of college football, every game seemingly is a “must win” game for head coaches, but that rings true for Kevin Sumlin in this matchup. The rumor mill would indicate that his fate has already been sealed, win or lose. But, if a decision has not been made, a win against LSU would go a long way in making a case to keep him.
Since the series was picked up in 2011, LSU has owned A&M with six consecutive wins.
Prediction: LSU 27, 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 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.