1. Things have been up and down, but Kyle Allen's freshman year is closing out on a high note. What's been the difference with him in the starting spot, compared to Kenny Hill, who was so hot early this year?
Kyle Allen exudes a lot of confidence for a true freshman that will only be making his fourth career start. The biggest difference between the two is Allen's willingness and ability to throw deeper down the field than Kenny Hill. Attacking the deep third of a defense has opened up the Texas A&M passing attack to what we have seen before under Johnny Manziel as well as Case Keenum when Kevin Sumlin was at the University of Houston. The Aggies' screen game and open routes over the middle have reappeared thanks to the threat of a downfield passing game, something that just wasn't there under Hill. Allen also trusts his receivers to make plays on the ball in contested situations, which is common in SEC play, whereas Hill would double-clutch, and not be willing to make these throws. When the month of October hit, Kenny was suffering from inaccuracy issues, was gun-shy, and didn't have a lot of trust in other players within the offense. With Allen, a lot of that faith has been restored and he isn't afraid to sling it and take chances, which has really helped the passing game get back on track.
2. Offense is struggling to run the ball again despite a veteran line and some talented backs. What's the problem there? Playcalling? Lack of commitment? Struggle to get push?
There are a couple of issues plaguing the Texas A&M running game. The biggest, in my opinion, is poor play from the interior of the offensive line. The Aggies start two new starters at the guard positions (Garrett Gramling at LG and Joseph Cheek at RG), as well as an undersized SEC center in Mike Matthews. This group just hasn't been able to get a good, consistent push inside to move the defensive tackles off the line of scrimmage, thus leading to more plays made for little to no gain. They also have a hard time working off double-teams and moving to the second level to pick up linebackers. On the outside, Texas A&M has fooled around with more outside runs this year than we have been used to seeing, but our offensive tackles can struggle at setting the edge, especially against the quicker, athletic defensive ends (see Missouri). But it's not just the offensive line. Running back play has been poor, with runners not staying committed to their assigned running lane and have a tendency to try and bounce runs outside too quickly. Our rotation is also screwy, as we rotate in a different running back every 4-6 plays, never allowing a given runner to get any momentum and into the flow of a game. A runner could make a nice 10 yard run, then is immediately subbed out just because his 5 plays are up. It makes no sense, but that is how the Texas A&M running game has been operating.
3. Pass targets are spread pretty evenly in the receiving corps. Is there a true go-to guy here or is Allen just finding the open guy?
I don't think there is a true "go-to" guy, however Kyle Allen and Josh Reynolds have developed a nice connection and Reynolds seems to be Allen's favorite target so far. But the offense is at its best when senior WR Malcome Kennedy is playing well and is involved in the offense. Malcome saw something like 18 targets in Texas A&M's season opening win over South Carolina. Kennedy then suffered a shoulder injury against Arkansas and was limited throughout October, when the Texas A&M offense was at its worst. If Kennedy is catching passes around the line of scrimmage and then over the middle, it is a clear indication that the Texas A&M offense is flowing pretty well. If you don't see many targets to Kennedy, then the Aggie offense is struggling and probably facing numerous third and long situations. If I were John Chavis, I would be focusing on neutralizing Malcome Kennedy on Thursday night. If LSU is effective at covering the middle of the field against our passing attack, Kyle Allen and the receivers will be forced to make plays on the outside, were we just lack consistency.
4. Well, I'm sure there's no easy answer here, but that's okay. What's the problem on defense? Lack of talent? Experience? Combination of both?
Well, it's definitely a lack of talent, mainly from the upperclassman. The best talent currently on the defense are all true freshman, starting with DEs Myles Garrett, Qualen Cunningham and Jarrett Johnson, two young linebackers in Josh Walker (injured and out for LSU) and Otaro Alaka, and free safety Armani Watts. We also have several players playing out of position and/or are undersized for the position they are playing: Alonzo Williams at nose guard and Deshazor Everett at corner come immediately to mind. A huge problem in our last game against Missouri was the inability of our defensive tackles to take on double-teams, and they just got blown off the line which limited our linebackers. If Texas A&M wants a shot at beating LSU, they are going to have to either split those double-teams or at least stand their ground at the line of scrimmage allowing our linebackers to make plays against the LSU run game. The amount of playing time senior Ivan Robinson sees (recovering from injury) will go a long way to determine how stable the defense will be up front. In the secondary, the scheme our defensive backs are asked to run really doesn't fit their strengths. Senior Deshazor Everett would be a better safety or a cover 2 corner. De'Vante Harris would be better as a true man-to-man corner. Instead, we ask them to play a soft cover 3 and make them solely responsible for coverage against a third of the field. To date, they can't handle that responsibility, but we keep trotting them out there asking them to do the same thing. So scheme and being too hardheaded to change it and adapt to defensive personnel is also an issue.
5. Are Mark Snyder's days numbered at defensive coordinator?
They should be. Mark Snyder's problems at Texas A&M are really two fold: the first being stubborn in who he plays (the lack of talent upperclassman over the freshman) and his hardheadedness and refusal to adapt his scheme based on who we currently have on the roster. This defense has never put players in a position to succeed; we ask so much of guys like Alonzo Wiliams and Deshazor Everett who are playing out of position to begin with. And as I mentioned in the previous answer, Mark Snyder has never tried to adapt this scheme to account for these issues. He has been hell-bent on going down running this system, and it looks like it will cost him his job at season's end. Two more complaints you will frequently hear are poor fundamentals (i.e. tackling) and inability to create turnovers (-6 turnover margin on the season).
6. Most LSU fans aren't thrilled with the time slot of this one. Will there be a big crowd in attendance in Kyle Field despite the holiday?
There will be a mostly-full Kyle Field on Thursday evening. It won't be the sell-out, record breaking crowd that many expected at the beginning of the season, mostly due to the poor performance from Texas A&M down the stretch. We thought we would break the all-time attendance record for the state of Texas in this game. Instead, I think the record we set against Ole Miss earlier in the year is fairly safe. I am expecting an (announced) crowd of ~107,000 on Thursday, which will still be the second largest crowd in the stadium's history. Texas A&M's tradition of playing on Thanksgiving dates all the way back to 1902, but has only played on Thanksgiving Day 30 times since 1955. Texas A&M started playing on Thanksgiving again in 2008, before the Texas - Texas A&M game stopped in 2011. I certainly understand how frustrating it is for LSU fans that want to make the trip to College Station for this game. That's hard to do with a Thanksgiving kick. But I do think a lot of Aggies like the Thanksgiving game, especially if it means less people around the country are paying attention to what is happening in Austin during the same time-slot. There is no doubt playing at the same time as Texas has some allure for playing on Thanksgiving night versus Friday afternoon, which is what LSU is used to. I've done both the Thanksgiving night or Friday afternoon games, and honestly it is really nice to have both all day Friday and Saturday to watch games from around the country. I hope LSU fans come to like and grow accustomed to it, and find a way to make a road trip to College Station at least once every few years. The rowdier Kyle Field is, the better. We'd love as many Tiger fans to make the trip to College Station as possible.