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LSU ends regular season with turkey day tilt in Texas

If reports and rumors are true, then it’s likely going to be a super busy Thanksgiving weekend for the LSU football team.

But before any coach can be hired, fired, interviewed or promoted, the Tigers have a game to play – a Thanksgiving night contest that the boys in purple and gold would really like to win.

LSU will take on Texas A&M on Thursday – the ending to LSU’s tumultuous 2016 season.

The game marks one final opportunity for coach Ed Orgeron to show his superiors that he can lead the team into the future.

It also is a final opportunity for the Tigers to improve their bowl game after a rough year.

Orgeron said despite all of the outside noise, LSU won’t be distracted. He said they’ll be ready to take the field and avenge last Saturday’s poor showing against Florida.

“Whatever happens after the game, I’m sure we’re going to discuss, but we haven’t discussed anything yet,” Orgeron said. “And things are going to happen the way it should. But my job is to prepare this team to play on Thanksgiving. (Defensive line coach) Pete Jenkins and I were talking about it … what a wonderful opportunity we have to coach LSU on Thanksgiving night in front of a national crowd. … We’re going to be ready for that.”

The Tigers have to right their wrongs from this past weekend to have any shot against the Aggies.
LSU outplayed Florida in between the 20-yard-lines on Saturday, outgaining the Gators by a 423-270 margin throughout the game.

But Florida won on the scoreboard, because LSU didn’t score when it got close.

The Tigers had three scoreless red zone trips in Saturday’s loss, while also kicking a short field goal on another.

“We didn’t make the most of our opportunities,” Orgeron said.

Scoring those critical touchdowns against Texas A&M won’t be an easy feat, either, because the Aggies have talent on both sides of the ball, thanks, in part, to a familiar face in LSU history.

Former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis has the Aggies defense playing as well as it has in years – a unit that forces turnovers at a high rate and which is capable of stopping both run and pass.

Orgeron said a big point of emphasis in Thursday’s game will be controlling Aggies junior defensive end Myles Garrett – a player considered by many to be among the best in the country.

The team also hopes to get tough, hard-fought yards in between the tackles – a feat that won’t easily be achieved with junior halfback Leonard Fournette out with an injury.

Orgeron said the workload will again fall on sophomore Derrius Guice – a player looking for redemption after breaking the wrong way on the final play of Saturday’s game. Replay shows that if he breaks to the left, instead of to the right, he likely walks into the end zone for the game-winning score.

“Derrius is about execution,” Orgeron said. “He’s disappointed in some of the things that he did, but it’s not all on him. … Every play counts, and he’s one of 20 players that didn’t execute. It’s not just him.”
On the other side of the ball, Texas A&M’s offense remains potent under coach Kevin Sumlin, but the Aggies have been a bit watered down in recent weeks by the injury bug.

Starting quarterback Trevor Knight is out for the season, which has placed Jake Hubenak into the lineup in his place.

Hubenak is a 6-foot, 3-inch junior who has completed 59.8 perent of his passes for 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in limited action, but he lacks the running threat Knight possessed.

Sumlin said he knows the Aggies have to be efficient on Thursday – especially against an LSU defense that is as good as any in America.

But the Tigers will be without Kendall Beckwith on Thursday after he sprained his knee against Florida.
“LSU’s energy level is up,” Sumlin said. “These guys are flying around and they are playing hard. They’ve played great in their close games – even in their losses. … they’ve given up 11 touchdowns in 10 games. That’s great defense. They are executing.”

It’s execution that Orgeron hopes doesn’t fall on deaf ears.

He refused to comment on the coaching situation at the school, maintaining that his focus is on the present and beating the Aggies.

But he did lower his guard a little to talk about how thrilling the past few months have been – a journey he hopes can continue forward into the future.

“It’s been fantastic,” Orgeron said. “What a ride. It’s been great.”

SCOUTING REPORT
LSU offense vs. Texas A&M defense
Advantage: Texas A&M
The Aggies are better defensively than they’ve ever been under coach Kevin Sumlin. This one is close to a push, but with Fournette out, we give the edge to the Aggies – even if just slightly.

LSU defense vs. Texas A&M offense
Advantage: LSU
That LSU isn’t undefeated with the effort its defense has given this season is borderline criminal. Losing Beckwith is a huge, huge blow. But we suspect LSU will be ready to answer the ball on Thursday.

Special teams
Advantage: Texas A&M
Christian Kirk is one of the best returners in the country, having already taken three punts back for touchdowns this season. That doesn’t bode well for LSU on Thursday night.

DIG’s PICK
Ugly game, but LSU finds a way – somehow, someway.
LSU 20, Texas A&M 17

Photo by Sean Gasser.

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