The Tiger offense surprised everyone last week, me included. I picked another loss because I didn’t think LSU would change things up, and I didn’t think the personnel could execute the current scheme. They did a little bit of both. I liked the short passes, the screens and especially the offensive line play. This is a big week for the Tiger offense. A win sends the Tigers off to the bye week at 7-1 with Alabama and what will be a flammable environment in Tiger Stadium looming.
LSU Offensive Line vs. Texas A&M Defensive Line
Well what do you know? LSU loses three starters from the preseason offensive line and plays its best game of the season. Go figure. Tip of the cap to Josh Dworaczyk. He matched up with Jadeveon Clowney all night long last week and basically won the battle. Sure, he had help at times, but that’s the nature of the position. Dworaczyk is still working over there, and he’s far from perfect, but strides are being made. La’El Collins is a budding star. He’s a freak of an athlete for that guard spot, and it’s showing every game. Dworaczyk blew an assignment last week and Colins reacted to it by leaping out and knocking Clowney off his path. Not many guards have that play. P.J. Lonergan is still toughing it out. He’s not healthy, but you’re not going to keep him off the field. I think that’s comforting to Zach Mettenberger at the very least. And what about Trai Turner? The kid showed up with an attitude on Saturday night and took control of that side of the line. He’s quicker than Josh Williford and gets to the second level exceptionally well. That’s when LSU rips off those 12-15 yard runs. Williford was more of a road grater over there. Turner is showing nice versatility. Vadal Alexander is coming of age right before our eyes. He’s learning more and more every week, and he did a fantastic job on Devin Taylor last week. All the rangy end mustered was five assisted tackles. No hurries, sacks or TFLs. Perhaps the continuity Alexander and Turner formed in the spring as the second unit is paying off now. On Williford, he has not practiced this week. Don’t expect him to play. Alex Hurst is not with the team.
The same front four has started every game for the Aggies who rank fifth in rush defense and third in sacks in the SEC. Obviously you know about Damontre Moore by now, and you should. He’s got three more sacks (8.5) than Jarvis Jones (UGA) and Clowney (USC), and it’s not out of the question for those two to be the No. 1 pick in the next two NFL drafts. Moore is a blend of those two guys. He’s not a long, athlete like Clowney, and he’s not a speed edge guy like Jones. What his is is a physical technician with a great motor and better than average speed. He lines up all over the field and makes things miserable for offenses. The fact that he leads the team in tackles is absurd. Ends don’t do that. The other end is Brother Martin product Julien Obioha, a true freshman. He’s started all six games, has 10 tackles and a sack. Senior Spencer Nealy and junior Kirby Ennis are the tackles. They are big, strong presences in the middle, but Nealy is by far the more impactful player. He’s made 22 stops this year and has been a nuisance in opposing backfields time and time again. Ennis doesn’t stuff the stat sheet, but he’s a reliable option in the trenches at 286 lbs.
So the question remains, was last week a one-time rally of the troops, or has the Tiger offensive line gelled? Obviously the home crowd helped urge the guys on, but the performance was so dominating that it didn’t figure to be a fluke. As I said, Moore has to be accounted for at all times, and these tackles will need help with him. That said, Obioha and the defensive tackles are very blockable. No one has rammed it down these guys’ throat. They play well against the run, especially at home. I think the newfound continuity helps this Tiger offense, and the longer it’s on the field Saturday, the worse the news will get for Texas A&M. This a VERY close edge, but I’m going to buy the Tiger line right now.
LSU Running Backs vs. Texas A&M Linebackers
It’s easy to forget that Spencer Ware was a beast early in the South Carolina game. He just got sick and had to sit. That’s where Jeremy Hill took over the position and the game. He ran for 124 yards and two touchdowns against a stingy defense, the last of which came on an awesome run that displayed vision, quickness and speed to take it the distance. My ears are still ringing from being on the field for that one. Remember, most thought Hill was a better prospect than Kenny Hilliard in the Class of 2011, he just took a longer route to the field. Hill now fits into the gameplans moving forward because he’s so versatile. Ware is still the most physical back on the team, and he needs early carries. He sets the tone. Ford got he the edge a couple of times last week. He’ll always be good for a few of those, and Hilliard caught and couple, ran a couple and moved the chains when his number was called. Trying to guess who will be the impact player is impossible week to week. Knowing it could be a number of guys is just fine.
The Texas A&M linebacking corps was a strength heading into the season. Three senior starters returned, and they’ve played well. Jonathan Stewart mans the middle. He’s second on the team in tackles behind Moore. Stewart is huge at 6-feet-4-inches, and he doesn’t run sideline to sideline. Most middle men don’t’ though. He makes plays at the line of scrimmage and lines his men up before every play. Sean Porter plays the weak side. He’s steady. Was named 1st Team All-Big XII last year. Steven Jenkins is your strong side backer. He’s missed some time this year with injuries, but he’s played in every game. He may be one of the players who struggled with the 100+ plays Tech ran last week against this defense, but he’s toughed it out thus far.
This is a classic experience-talent matchup. Obviously these Aggie linebackers have seen it all, including LSU when they played the Tigers in the Cotton Bowl two seasons ago. The Tigers seem to continue to roll out backs who produce. The hot hand gets the carries. I think Ware gets the early touches with Hilliard and Hill in quickly following. This Texas A&M corps fills gaps in the running game when it has to. That may mean some of Ford to stretch them. He may be a bit of an x-factor here. I think Les Miles and Greg Studrawa like what these guys have given them in the passing game of late, so expect more of that too. I think that side of things definitely leans the Tigers’ way. This is a really good matchup here. Another slim margin.
LSU Quarterbacks and Receivers vs. Texas A&M Secondary
This group was good last week. The turnover was awful. The rest, good. The wide receivers held on to the ball. Mettenberger hit them on third downs. They threw short and intermediate routes. They moved the chains. The throw Mettenberger made to Jarvis Landry in the second half on the post is just an example of what this passing game can do. The pieces are there. The interception and blown sluggo are the examples of why it hasn’t gotten off the ground. I still contend that what LSU did through the air in the first quarter was the reason the ground game got going in the second half last week. Those screen and outs moved the sticks and kept South Carolina on the field. Those extra snaps count. That has to continue this week.
The A&M secondary got a workout last week. It went video-game in Shreveport Saturday night, and the depleted Aggies had no answer for the Bulldog passing game. Help is on the way this week in the form of suspended safety Howard Matthews. Freshman Devante Harris is a true freshman who has started every game at corner for the Aggies. He’s accompanied by senior Dustin Harris and junior Tramain Jacobs. The safeties are Steven Terrell and Toney Hurd Jr. after senior safety Steven Campbell quit the team earlier this year. Hurd is a versatile guy that has played some linebacker this year, and Terrell has been a rock at free safety while the rest of the secondary wavers.
This Aggie secondary is not great. Not at all. This LSU passing game is not great. Not at all. That’s why I think this is the difference in the game. Can LSU move the football through the air and create some points in the red zone when it gets there? Give me the answer to that question, and I’ll give you a winner. Right now, I think the Tigers can move the ball on these guys. In fact, I think there are shots to be taken on them. Save the Towson game (scrimmage), LSU hasn’t hit the big play all year. This may be the week. Of course the passing game will start around the line of scrimmage, but when that big play is there (Auburn Beckham drop, Florida Beckham fumble, USC sluggo overthrow) it HAS TO be made. If the Tiger ground game gets rolling like it did last week, teams will cheat up. This Tiger crew has to make teams pay like the much maligned QBs did last year. The Aggie secondary has some experience and talent. It’s a team from Texas. Athletes are everywhere. They just haven’t put it together. Neither has LSU though, so it’s a push.
Front seven on front seven, this is a great matchup. In the passing game, it’s a mess. LSU dictates what the game looks like, good or bad, and I think this will be the best the Tiger passing game has looked thus far. I know the two road performances this year have been awful, but a breakout is inevitable. I’m looking for it this week. This Texas A&M defense is tired and not all that great to begin with. Give me Ware early, Hilliard and Hill late. Give me some efficient throws and catches. Give me some help on Moore and the gang up front. Give me a nice effort headed to the bye week from the Tiger offense.
Prediction: LSU 27, A&M 17