By Trey Mongrue
The 2014 football season has been a trying one for LSU to say the least.
Following a dreadful shutout loss at Arkansas, the Tigers certainly welcomed a much needed bye week. But now, Les Miles’ squad must face a quick turnaround with a Thanksgiving Night clash at Texas A&M to close out the regular season.
Just like LSU, the Aggies have been on quite the roller coaster this year and are currently plummeting following a 34-27 loss at home to Missouri before a break this past weekend. While this Thursday’s matchup in the budding Southeastern Conference rivalry may not quite have the shine that it has in recent seasons, it is important in that both teams would love to avoid a string of losses heading into the bowls.
In particular for Miles and LSU, a victory at Kyle Field would extend its winning streak against the Aggies to four games. Of course, this has been a season where a few SEC teams have ended losing skids against LSU.
LSU Offense vs. Texas A&M Defense
The Razorbacks defense held LSU to its worst offense performance of the season and it was by no accident. While most defenses against LSU this season at least gave credence to the possibility that Anthony Jennings may throw the ball, Arkansas essentially sold out on the run by stacking the box and it worked to near perfection. The Tigers vaunted rushing attack was stymied for just 36 yards and an average of 1.1 yard per its 32 attempts. Having ran for more than 75 yards in four of his last six games, Leonard Fournette was held to a career-low nine yards. In addition, the talented freshman has not scored since LSU’s 41-3 dismissal of Kentucky last month. The good news for LSU heading into this week’s game is that Texas A&M is abysmal against the run, which plays right into the Tigers’ lone strength on offense. The Aggies are allowing 209 rushing yards per game, which is better than just South Carolina in the SEC. In fact, the lowest rushing yard total that the Aggies have given up in their last three conference games was 298 yards in its 59-0 loss to Alabama. On top of its deficiencies in defending the run, Texas A&M’s secondary is ripe for the picking as well, but there are questions if Jennings – or maybe Brandon Harris – can take advantage of that.
LSU Defense vs. Texas A&M Offense
While the LSU offense and Texas A&M defense can be likened to a pillow fight, the reciprocal is more appetizing. Despite the two game losing streak, the Tigers’ defense is arguably playing better than any other in the country, having allowed just four touchdowns in its last three games – not including Alabama’s overtime score – and are allowing a league best 16.4 points per game. On top of keeping teams out of the end zone, the Tigers aren’t allowing teams to move the ball either. For the month of November, LSU leads the SEC in total defense, allowing just 289.5 yards. Whether it’s Danielle Hunter, Kendall Beckwith or Jamal Adams, there are a lot of LSU defenders that are playing out of their mind right now and it has been fun to watch. It’ll be a tough matchup for an Aggies offense that is in flux at the moment. While quarterback Kenny Hill’s suspension is now over, it appears that Kevin Sumlin will stick with Kyle Allen. Since taking over for Hill three games ago, the true freshman Allen has thrown for eight touchdowns, with four coming in the Aggies’ recent win over Auburn. In his last two games in particular, Allen appears to be getting more and more comfortable having completed 65-percent of his passes. However, he still is prone to a freshman mistake having been picked off in each of the games that he has started. To make matters worse, this LSU secondary will be by far the toughest that he has faced.
It may have been the frigid temperature in Fayetteville that played a part in Colby Delahoussaye’s two missed field goals, but there still has be a slight cause for concern. Heading into LSU’s game with Ole Miss nearly a month ago, the sophomore placekicker was perfect for his career only to then miss three of his next six with two of those attempts being less than 30 yards. Couple that with the still slightly erratic punting from Jamie Keehn and Tre’Davious White’s adventures in returning punts and you have the makings of some very shaky special teams, which is unusual for a Les Miles coached team. On the other side, the LSU coverage teams should be wary of Texas A&M freshman and Louisiana-native Speedy Noil. In addition one of the Aggies’ better receivers, Noil has been a threat on returns averaging 25 yards of kickoff returns and 13.6 yards returning punts.
Edge: Texas A&M
In terms of the postseason picture, this game for LSU doesn’t mean much. Win or lose, the Tigers are more than likely going to a bowl in either Tennessee or Florida. However, LSU is playing for pride, which is more important than a random bowl at this point. The Tigers have yet to lose three games in a row in this millennium. That should remain the case if the run games returns like it should against a very weak Texas A&M front. However, LSU usually comes out sluggish during these Thanksgiving week games, so the Aggies may still be in this one late to make things interesting.
LSU 27, Texas A&M 23