All of a sudden this game looks a little bit more tricky on this side of things. Entering the season no one knew what Kevin Sumlin’s offense would look like in the SEC, and no one really know who was going to pilot it. Well obviously Sumlin has found that guy, and with a couple of NFL caliber tackles and a receiver corps figuring out the offense, Texas A&M poses a serious threat to just about anyone it plays. The Tiger defense enters the week second in total defense and pass defense. The wild card continues to be the 11 a.m. kickoff. We’ll see how that affects the atmosphere and the players come Saturday morning.
LSU Defensive Line vs. Texas A&M Offensive Line
I thought Steve Spurrier made a mistake putting LSU’s defense on the field first last week, especially in that environment. I also he made a mistake running out of the shotgun on 3rd and inches on the first drive. The Tiger defensive line made a statement on that play, stoning Marcus Lattimore and forcing a punt. This unit is playing every bit as well as the front did last year, especially against the run. The Tigers are second in rush defense and second in sacks, pretty stout. Sam Montgomery has been unblockable on big plays, the safety at Auburn and late sack of Connor Shaw last week come to mind. When he’s fired up, he’s a scary man. Barkevious Mingo looks healthy now. He’s more than doubled the next best Tiger in the hurries department with eight. Lavar Edwards has cooled a bit, but his 3.5 sacks are just a half off the team lead. Anthony Johnson shows up big week after week and has seven tackles for loss. Bennie Logan made a couple of plays in the backfield last week, too. The man who finally came to play last week was Jermauria Rasco. He had the huge hit on Shaw after the throw, but he was also in on a backfield stop as well. He got some early snaps in the game, and we may see that continue over the last half of the schedule.
Want to know why the Aggie offense has been good thus far? Well there are a few reasons, but one is that the same five offensive linemen have started every game. Must be nice. The two best are the tackles, both of whom will be called early in April’s draft. Luke Joeckel is a junior left tackle, and he’s a front runner for All-SEC. He’s got great size, long arms and quick feet. And he’s about to have a fat wallet. Jake Matthews is the other bookend. He’s the son of Bruce Matthews who played in the NFL for 65 years. Like Joeckel, Matthews has all of the defining characteristics of a great NFL tackle. Those two are a quarterback’s dream. The center is senior Patrick Lewis, a former East St. John standout. Lewis has started for three seasons and is the “quarterback” of the unit. He’ll get the Aggies set up and call the protections. Sophomore Cedric Ogbuehi is the right guard, and he’s a returning starter there. At 6-feet-5-inches and 292 lbs., Ogbuehi is a natural pass blocker who has thrived in the new offense. Fellow sophomore Jarvis Harrison is the left guard. He’s got worlds of potential, but playing with such great players makes it tough to grab a headline.
Obviously the matchup to watch is on the edges. There is a ton of future money out there on both sides, and football nerds will love this. Montgomery schooled Barrett Jones last season in Tuscaloosa last season, but Joeckel is a better left tackle that Jones was. I look for this matchups to have ebbs and flows. These guys are too good not to win some and lose some. On the other side, I think Mingo’s speed is a real advantage working on Matthews who is a step slower than Joeckel. I think the Tigers have a bit of an edge there, especially in third and distance. In the middle, LSU is more physical. Texas A&M has run the ball when it’s needed to, even gained 134 on Florida who is tough on the run. The fast pace Texas A&M uses can be an advantage, especially in the heat of the day in Texas, but sustained drives are a must if you want LSU to become fatigued. Lots of fantastic football players here, but LSU is better when the group is taken as a whole.
LSU Linebackers vs. Texas A&M Running Backs
We’ll talk about Kevin Minter and Lamin Barrow in a minute, but you know about them. I think it looks like Luke Muncie will play some more minutes this week as his stamina returns. Lamar Louis has been active in his stead, but the youngster has some learning to do. Muncie is rarely out of position and has made the plays in front of him this year. Minter is at his best when the other team is coming downhill. That was the case last week, and he had another big game. Barrow was even better, making 12 tackles in the ballgame against South Carolina. This improved linebacker play has really made this defense tough to move on.
Christine Michael was the starter entering the season. He ran for 899 yards last season as a junior. This year it appears that Ben Malena has wrestled those duties away, or at least some of them. Molena averages 6.3 yards per carry and 63.3 yards per game on the ground. He’s a little guy a 5-feet-8-inches, but he’s thick and tough. Michael is a bigger back than Molena, but not much. These two guys feed off of Johnny Manziel’s read option prowess and offer a great change of pace. Neiether has really taken over a game, but that’s not their role. Both have caught a handful of passes, but neither has made a big play in that regard. They’re check down options who can get up the field and move the chains.
Against this spread attack, there will be plenty of nickel defense on the field meaning Barrow and Minter will get a workout. I talked to Barrow about that this week and he said he’d prefer the downhill, but his speed allows him to play on the edge. With the assist they’ll get from the line, the linebackers should be good enough on the run. It’s assignment football, and this defense is as disciplined as any in college football. In the passing game, the Tiger backers are plenty good enough. Molena will try to be that change of pace guy, and Michael would love to stick it to the team who basically told him there was no room at the inn. Right now, the tiger linebackers are a really good unit, and they’ll be a better group than this Texas A&M backfield Saturday
LSU Secondary vs. Texas A&M Quarterback and Wide Receivers
LSU is No. 2 in pass defense and pass defense efficiency. I have no idea what the latter is, but No. 2 is good. I did notice last week that South Carolina went at Jalen Mills early and often. Mills gave a soft cushion and made the tackle in front of him. John Chavis doesn’t quite trust him in man-to-man press coverage yet. But he trusts that Mills can tackle and limit big plays. Tharold Simon’s numbers are down as expected with Morris Claiborne no longer roaming the other side of the field. Auburn went at him, but others have shied away. He’s still got the ability to make some big, big plays. Haven’t seen it yet. Jalen Collins will see tons of time in the nickel. We’ll talk later about why that’s a good thing. Craig Loston has stayed healthy this year, and he’s produced with that newfound ability to stay on the field. Loston is still a liability in pass coverage. South Carolina went right at him for the first touchdown last week. He was never going to cover Ace Sanders who ended up wide open. That’s a concern this week, but the staff has to make sure those matchups don’t happen. Ronald Martin will certainly see some time in the game. He’s more athletic than Loston and may be a better matchup against this air raid. Martin can really run and jump. The key against this offense, though, is tackling, something Loston does a little bit better. Eric Reid is a little bit dinged up after last week. He fell on a cleat early in the game and bruised his chest. When he picked Shaw off late, he fell on the ball and hurt it again. He’s been limited in practice this week, but he’ll be in there with a pad under his shoulder pads this weekend. Reid is vital to the alignment of the defense and can play the run and pass. Yes, he missed that tackle on Lattimore at the goal line, but other players have missed tackles on that guy. He’s special.
Johnny Football. He’s taken this league by storm, setting the league record for total offense in a game two different times. He leads the conference in rushing and has gotten more and more comfortable throwing the ball over time. It’s tough to gauge just how god he is because stats against Arkansas, Ole Miss and Louisiana Tech don’t tell much. But do we take his first ever game as a college quarterback as gospel, either? That was the Aggies’ lone loss of the year against Florida. Manziel is a supremely talented athlete with the ability to throw it and run it. His 67.4 percent completion percentage and 14-3 TD/INT ratio prove that. He’s also got some help out there. Ryan Swope is a phenomenal slot receiver. He was second team All Big XII last season, and he’s been rock solid this year. Swope has great hands, slippery hips and a great feel for the passing game. However, Mike Evans has emerged as the go to guy. Evans is a big, lanky freshman with home run speed and athleticism. He’s got 36 catches for 549 yards this year, and average of 91.5 per game. He struck from 75 yards out last week against Tech. Manziel and the Aggies love the screen game, but they will also throw from the pocket. Often times those plays result in Manziel extending the play or tucking the ball and moving up the field.
This is the Aggies’ shot at pulling the upset. Manziel has to carry the team, and if you ask him, he knows he will. LSU has done wonders against mobile quarterbacks like Darron Thomas (Oregon), Chris Relf (MSU), Jeff Driskel (UF) and Connor Shaw (USC). As a rule, quarterbacks with wheels generally don’t get out of park against a Chavis defense. They’re too disciplined and fast. Manziel will no doubt test that theory with his legs, but it’s his arm that will need to do most of the damage. Simon and Collins have the size and speed to match up with Evans. Swope is an interesting matchup. He’ll likely be looking at Mills most of the night. Swope is a savvy route runner, and playing a freshman across from him is dicey. Expect a good amount of screens and short passes. Generally, LSU lets opposing teams have those. They just never allow the huge play, save North Texas’ big slant when Reid blew a coverage. Notice you haven’t seen that again. Texas A&M will move the ball at times through the air, and Manziel will pick up some yardage on the ground. Sumlin’s offense is clicking early on. Only in one half did it bog down, that was when Florida got a good look at it. I’m going to believe this Manziel kid can play a little bit for right now. VERY slight edge.
Advantage: Texas A&M
This LSU defense is awesome. It has done its part in every game this year, and I expect that to continue. Some of you may have wanted to stop reading when I gave A&M that last edge. I just like Swope’s style, and I think Manziel will make some plays. I also realize that the Tiger front seven should stuff the traditional run and a one-dimensional offense may struggle to score many points on LSU. Florida shut these guys out in the second half. I expect a West Virginia-like game plan here allowing for some short passes and some first downs. It’s just tough to sustain multiple long drives on this team. That’s what Chavis wants. Manziel hasn’t made crucial mistakes this year, but he hasn’t played a defense like this one in awhile. I think A&M scores some points, but their defense isn’t great and it’ll cost them
Prediction: LSU 27, A&M 17