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LSU vs. Texas A&M: What to Watch For

And so our march comes to a close. But will it give us closure?

It almost seems fitting that the final game of the 2016 regular season for LSU comes, rather anti-climactically, on a Thursday night in College Station, Texas.

The Tigers limp in, shorthanded by at least one of, if not two of their best players, coming off an emotionally draining, ugly, last-second loss to Florida. They come in with an interim coach that may, or may not, still have a chance at living his dream and getting the job full time. That status will be terminally affected, one way or another, but the results of this game.

The Aggies, meanwhile, will likely play this game without their own starting quarterback (Note: Trevor Knight is now slated to play, per reports) and could likewise be playing for their own coach’s job, following another noteworthy November regression. With a win, A&M can clinch their best regular season record since Johnathan F. Football was in town, and possibly grab hold of a New Year’s Six bowl spot with a little luck. Plus…you know…their defensive coordinator is still suing LSU to try and duck out of his buyout.

All-in-all, there are just enough subplots to make this game interesting. And just enough drama to make digesting those Thanksgiving leftovers a little more taxing.

What to Watch For On Satur…

Wait, Thursday?

Yes, Thursday.

Well, at least it’s the last time will have to do that…

Missing Ingredient?

Kendell Beckwith will definitely be out of this one, and Leonard Fournette seems doubtful with his ankle sprain. As amazing as Fournette is, it’s the former of those two names that could be the larger sticking point for LSU.

It was Beckwith’s injury that was the turning point of LSU’s defense in the loss to Florida, as the Gators were able to rush for more than 100 yards in his absence, at double the yards per carry (2.2 to 4.8). Donnie Alexander has played better in spots this year, but he was a little hesitant against Florida’s misdirection plays, and struggled at the point of attack in bringing down running back Jordan Scarlett.

Now, as to how much that will affect things remains to be seen. Texas A&M comes in averaging some 220 yards per game on the ground, but that running game was largely tied to the running threat of Knight. Without him, things have fallen off quite a bit.

(With Knight back in the lineup, look for a run-heavy gameplan, especially with Beckwith out)

They ran for just 117 yards against Mississippi State and 129 against Ole Miss – two teams that have been giving up around 200 yards a game to most conference opponents. The Aggies got back on track somewhat with 183 yards against UTSA last week, but that seems like a bit of a mirage.

Of course, Florida’s running game had been struggling as well before last week.

Fournette’s absence is unfortunate because…well…who the hell doesn’t want to watch that young man run the football in purple and gold one last time? But it is somewhat mitigated by his teammates.

Sausage Dressing

The Aggie defense has allowed an average of 229 rushing yards per game to SEC opponents this year, including big numbers to really bad rushing teams like South Carolina and Ole Miss. So Fournette or no Fournette, LSU needs to line right up and grind this defense up into those little maroon chunks you’ll see in one of the dressings on your table on Thursday.

Derrius Guice may have made a pair of critical mistakes last Saturday, but he’ll need to get over that. He’s too good of a player to sit on the bench and this is a rush defense tailor made for LSU’s offense to devour. Run Guice. Run Darrel Williams. Hell, get Nick Brossette involved as well. There could even be some chances to use D.J. Chark in the jet-sweep game to try and contain the Aggie pass-rush as well.

Pressure Release

A&M has plenty of talent, especially at wide receiver, but the one guy on this roster that really scares me is defensive end Myles Garrett. And while LSU has handled him pretty well in the last two meetings, there’s some lingering doubt this year, just due to what we saw the pressure of Alabama’s pass-rush do to Danny Etling a few weeks back.

Etling’s shown some real guts – it’s a shame a bad ending stained what was a damn strong drive at the end of the Florida game. But LSU needs to be smart with how they manage him. We know A&M’s defense with John Chavis, and it will use a healthy amount of man-to-man coverage. Eat that up with slants – that power-slant run/pass option play the Tigers have shown a few times would be a smart move on standard downs. Roll Etling away from Garrett off of play-action, and use some draws and delays to frustrate him in some passing situations. I wouldn’t run screens in his direction too many times, nor would I leave him unblocked on many shotgun runs, as he attacks the mesh-point very well.

Garrett’s impact is the Aggies’ best chance in this game. Mitigate that, handle the line of scrimmage in the running game and LSU can grab one final win. We’ll find out shortly thereafter what, if anything, it will mean for the program moving forward.