11/27/15 5:55 am CST
Good morning, Tiger Fans,
First off, I want to thank all of you who responded to my Thanksgiving Message yesterday. I hope you all had a wonderful, memorable day.
Somewhat lost in all the madness of the Les Miles saga and the Thanksgiving holidays is the fact that LSU has a big game to play tomorrow as the Tigers are set to take on Texas A&M at 6:30 p.m. in Tiger Stadium. The game will be televised on the SEC Network with Brent Musburger (play-by-play), Jesse Palmer (analyst) and Maria Taylor (sideline reporter) calling the action. LSU will be looking to end the regular season on a high note and avoid suffering four straight losses for the first time since 1999. Of course, the bigger story line is that many, including Scott Roussel of FootballScoop.com, are saying the game will be Les Miles’ last as an LSU coach. Roussel is known as being one of the most connected sources in the industry on such matters, and in this article on BleacherReport.com he expresses 100% certainty that Miles will be out and that Jimbo Fisher will almost surely be LSU’s next coach. All I can say about that is I’ve heard nothing that would lead me to believe otherwise, although in matters like these nothing can ever be assumed.
In today’s report, we’re going to carry on as if it’s business as usual and focus on the game ahead by comparing LSU and Texas A&M in terms of offense, defense, special teams and intangibles. As always, your comments and feedback are welcome, but I hope you’ll understand that I may not be able to answer all of your messages individually due to the overwhelming amount of email I’ve received in the last few days.
LSU offense vs. Texas A&M defense
Take away the outside storylines surrounding Les Miles and John Chavis, and you’ll find an intriguing matchup in Saturday’s contest when the Tigers take the field on offense. After John Chavis left LSU to join Texas A&M, the Aggies have improved on defense, as evidenced by the fact that they are allowing an average of 370 total yards per game this season, whereas last year they allowed an average of 451. Texas A&M still struggles to defend the run (the team isn’t built to stop power running attacks) but has improved dramatically in pass defense, allowing the second lowest passing yards per game in the conference (168). They’ve been able to put up such impressive pass defense numbers with improved play in the secondary and one of the premier pass-rushers in all of college football in Myles Garrett, who is tied for fifth in the nation with 10.5 sacks on the year. As a team, the Aggies are 13th in the nation in sacks with 32 on the season. What these numbers tell me is that LSU would probably be best suited to play to its identity as a power running team and dish out a heavy dose of Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. A pretty telling stat from earlier this month was the rushing success Auburn had against Texas A&M. The Auburn Tigers gave it to Jovon Robinson 27 times, and Robinson was able to rack up 159 of Auburn’s 311 rushing yards. I see no reason why LSU shouldn’t be able to have similar success against a team whose rushing defense is ranked 13th in the SEC, especially if offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins, who is listed as probable, is able to play in the game.
Slight advantage LSU
LSU defense vs. Texas A&M offense
The Aggies’ offense has looked explosive at times (wide receiver Christian Kirk is the real deal, folks), but has lacked consistency. As LSU fans, we can relate. The biggest reason for the Aggies’ struggles with consistency has been a lack of leadership at quarterback from Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray. Against West Carolina and Auburn, Murray threw five total interceptions, and Allen has been battling a shoulder sprain that he suffered against Alabama, which led to him missing open receivers against Ole Miss. Allen has been named the starter for Saturday, but should LSU get pressure on him and aggravate that injury, an appearance by Murray wouldn’t come as a shock. Texas A&M is second to last in the SEC in sacks allowed, while LSU’s Lewis Neal and Arden Key have proven more than capable of giving chase. What worries me most in this matchup is the play of LSU’s secondary, as it will be looking to defend one of the best pairs of SEC receivers in Christian Kirk and Josh Reynolds, who each rank in the top six in the conference in receiving. Besides Ole Miss, this might be the most talented receiving corps the Tigers will have faced all season long. Because of the issues LSU has had with busted coverage in the secondary, I’m hesitant to give LSU the advantage here, but if the Tigers can generate pressure it could make for a long night for the Aggies.
Tiger fans may be holding their breath when the punt unit takes the field Saturday. Kirk, as mentioned earlier, is an electrifying player with the ball in his hands, and he leads the conference in average yards per punt return. Kirk is averaging 24 yards per return and has two punt returns for touchdowns this season. On the flip side, A&M punter Drew Kaser leads the conference with a 47-yard per punt average. So although LSU’s special teams have improved a bit over the last few weeks, the Aggies’ special teams are talented enough to not only shift the field but win the game with a game-changing play. Aggies hold a strong advantage here.
Advantage Texas A&M
Playing the game at night in Tiger Stadium is an obvious advantage for LSU, but the big question here is how LSU’s players will respond amidst all the negativity surrounding Les Miles. Can they channel it into positive energy and win one for their beloved coach? Or will the off-field distractions lead to further mistakes and unexplainable miscues on the field? Only time will tell.
Tune in tomorrow for our keys to an LSU victory.
Below are my final regular season weekly predictions. Last week I went 9-3, and on the season I’m 102-31 (.767) straight up.
Tennessee 21 Vanderbilt 7
Arkansas 28 Missouri 14
Georgia 27 Georgia Tech 21
Kentucky 21 Louisville 30
Clemson 38 South Carolina 10
Alabama 41 Auburn 17
Mississippi State 31 Ole Miss 28
Florida 17 Florida State 31
UL-Lafayette 17 Appalachian State 30
UL_Monroe 30 Hawaii 24
LSU 27 Texas A&M 23
• A reminder to all of you participating in our LA High School Football Pickem contest: The deadline for making this week’s picks is today at 5 p.m.
• Here are a couple of good reads to go along with your Friday after Thanksgiving late-morning coffee: John Chavis' return to Tiger Stadium not completely unwelcomed, by Nola.com, and LSU’s treatment of Miles is shameful, by GridIronNow.com.