What To Watch For on Saturday
What's My Motivation?
My feelings on this game are established, but I'm not going to lie -- the precedent of LSU mailing in the late November games after a Bama game is well-established. Will it happen? I have no idea.
In 2012, the defense stacked with a ton of soon-to-be NFL draftees didn't completely fold, but didn't exactly give their best efforts. LSU still won all three games versus State, Ole Miss and Arkansas, but it was pretty obvious.
In 2010, following a win over Bama, the defense no-showed versus a bad Ole Miss team and committed a ton of stupid mental mistakes in a loss to Arkansas.
And of course, in 2008 the senior class on both sides of the ball all but abandoned the younger players like Jarrett Lee, Kelvin Sheppard, Patrick Peterson, etc..., and the program was completely embarrassed in a break-neck win over Troy, a real shit-kicking by Ole Miss and a last-second upset in Little Rock.
But look, every team is different, and this is certainly not fait accompli in 2013. It's just easy to picture given that the Tiger offense, or more specifically, the Tiger offensive line, essentially walked off the field and allowed Zach Mettenberger to get completely hammered in the final minutes of last week's loss in Tuscaloosa.
I'm pretty confident we'll see intensity from the Mettenbergers, the Jarvis Landrys, Odell Beckhams, and the younger guys on defense like Tre'davious White, Kwon Alexander -- the guys that are going to be a part of this program through 2014. It's guys like La'El Collins, Freak Johnson and Jermauria Rasco, who have already underachieved this season (Collins, to be fair, has been excellent at times, but was particularly absent in the fourth quarter versus Bama), and may have their eyes on their alleged professional futures (all I'll say is some might not like what they here). I really hope I'm proven wrong, because LSU will need all hands on deck for this one. On both sides of the ball.
And it's not just for the start of the game. LSU will need to maintain intensity for 60 minutes. Even if they somehow find a way to get a lead, A&M is too good on offense to relax against. Likewise, the Aggies are that bad on defense that they shouldn't feel too safe with any lead either. The crowd, whatever size it turns out to be, will need to keep their own intensity up.
Lord knows there ought to be a lot of action to take in.
No More Bullets?
Frankly, the offense that gives up the ball in this one, whether that's via turnover, downs or simply punting, will probably be the one that comes up short.
Both of these teams have incredibly prolific offenses and woeful defenses. LSU and Texas A&M are one or two (and sometimes one and two) in the SEC in the following categories: scoring offense, passing offense, total offense, yards per play, third-down conversion rate, yards per attempt, completion percentage and passer rating.
If you've got a television, you ought to know what the Aggies can do. They run a dynamic, up-tempo spread/air-raid combination that has scored nearly 50 a game behind the playmaking ability of returning Heisman winner, and should-be Heisman favorite Johnny Manziel. Mssr. Football is just a yard off his 2012 total offense average (393 yards a game). He's running slightly less (11 attempts a game compared to 15 last year), but he's markedly improved as a passer. Manziel has been more accurate (73 percent passing, up from 68 in '12) while throwing for an extra two yards per attempt.
Superfreek wide receiver Mike Evans is his favorite target, and he's been nearly impossible for any secondary to really handle, but 11 other players have touchdown receptions, and four others have at least 30 catches and more than 400 yards. The Aggies love to use shallow crosses and quick/bubble screens that get the ball in space quickly, and will attack down the field with those plays as a constraint. The running game uses Manziel as the constraint for a lot of zone read/inverted veer concepts, and has been fairly productive with just under 200 yards per game, though it has struggled a bit in short-yardage situations (not at all unusual for a spread attack). Ben Malena is the No. 2 guy, a pure between-the-tackles type that can pick up what's there. Sophomore Trey Williams is the speed back, and one of the better kick-off returners in the SEC.
LSU meanwhile, needs to get back to basics a little. Aside from Fordham, the Tigers haven't really dropped an impressive offensive output since the Mississippi State game. Turnovers and other unforced errors have been the main culprits, mostly born from, in my opinion, too much urgency. Pressing to make big plays and getting sloppy. Versus A&M, LSU needs to get back to what worked so well in the early games. Relying on two-back personnel and taking whatever the defense gives. Passing if the defense single-covers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, or power running if they try to keep the safeties deep. The Aggies haven't stopped either that much, as we'll get into later.
There's been a lot of talk this week about time of possession and keeping Manziel and the Aggies off of the field. Don't get me wrong, it's a good thought. Thing is, the Aggies are already dead last in the league in time of possession, and 112th nationally. They hold the ball for just about 27-and-a-half minutes a game, and run a play every 22 seconds, give or take. They don't need the ball very long to score.
The most important thing for LSU in this game is to cash in on as many possessions as possible, whether that's via quick strikes or long, pain-staking drives. Nobody will expect the Tigers to make many stops in this game. If LSU's own defensive woes weren't enough, this is an offense that has scored at least 41 in every game this season. Nobody has stopped it.
Do NOT Expect
Defense. Like any. At all.
Y'all think LSU's defense is bad? Well, you're right.
A&M's is much worse. They are last, or in the bottom three in every major defensive category: passing, D, rushing D, scoring D and total defense. They allow 6.1 yards per play, a full yard more than LSU. They have allowed 200 or more yards on the ground six times this season, and 250 passing yards or more five other times.
Of course, when you score 50 a game, it generally doesn't matter that much that you allow 30.
The culprit, as you can imagine, is a lot of things: a weak defensive front, a bit of bad tackling and a young and inexperienced secondary that has also missed guys due to suspensions at times.
A&M has done slightly better than LSU on third down this season (36 percent conversions allowed as opposed to 39 for the Tigers) and they've intercepted a healthy 15 passes on the year. The majority of that damage, though, has come against the likes of Rice, Sam Houston State, Arkansas, UTEP, etc...
Coordinator Mark Snyder runs a bit of a hybrid 4-3/3-4 front with an elephant stand-up end. It's been a rough year, but he seems like he's still relatively popular with the fan base, and he's an old-hand that will probably get things going as the talent improves or gets more experienced. But for the time being, LSU should be able to get everything they want.
On the other side, even if the Tigers had a GOOD defense, they wouldn't have much of a chance of stopping this outfit. Nobody else has. But it also happens to be a bad matchup, with a lot of screen and misdirection plays that have been a problem for LSU this season. Plus, the problems that Manziel himself presents.
Last season, John Chavis made a magnificent halftime adjustment after A&M spent most of the first half going up and down the field. Using the 3-2-6 Mustang look and blitzing nickel and dime corners Jalen Mills and Micah Eugene to chase Manziel as blitzers instead of the defensive linemen, while the safeties played cover two to keep an eye in case Manziel broke free. The line and linebackers kind of served as the fence posts, catching Johnny Football as he was chased into them by the DBs. I would expect to see a similar strategy this week, though I'm a little worried as to how well it will work without Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Kevin Minter there to catch the quarterback. But you still have to mix some zone in coverage, because the second the DBs turn their backs, Manziel takes off.
Overall, the biggest key to this game for LSU, quite frankly, is to score, and score a lot. Long drives are fine, long drives are great. Just score at the end of them. An eight-minute drive may protect the defense a little, but if it doesn't end in points, chances are the Aggies are going to get them on the next possession. Because again, this is an offense that nobody has been able to stop, and an offense that doesn't need a lot of time.
So you have to outscore them.