WHEN: Thursday, November 24 at 6:30 pm CT
WHERE: Kyle Field (College Station, Tex.)
TV/RADIO: ESPN/98.1 FM Baton Rouge/Tiger Sports Radio Network
SERIES: LSU leads the series 30-21-3
LAST MEETING: LSU beat the Aggies in Baton Rouge 19-7
LINE: LSU -7.5
LSU had a rough day taking care of the football against Florida with turnovers in the redzone and on kickoff return, which culminated in a loss to the Gators in Tiger Stadium last weekend. While LSU ran for over 200 yards against the Gators, the team wasn't able to take advantage of three opportunities to score inside the Florida 5-yard line. Danny Etling might have thrown for over 200 yards in the game against the Gators, but had a relatively ho-hum day completing just over 53 percent of his passes. LSU will be without Leonard Fournette, who is out with his recurring ankle injury, so the Tigers will rely on Derrius Guice to shoulder the load of the LSU offense. The offensive line has to protect Etling and open holes for Guice against the Aggies for LSU to have a chance at going into one of the toughest environments in college football and win.
Defensively, all eyes will be on Donnie Alexander, who gets the start for Kendell Beckwith in the middle after a knee injury sidelined him against Florida. The Gators saw a lot more success running the ball with Alexander in the game, which has to be one of the biggest worries against a team that likes to go as fast as the Aggies do on offense. The defensive line wore down at times against the Gators especially in the second half with the Gators long drive for a field goal that put LSU in a tough spot late in the game to win it. The secondary had one huge slipup allowing a 98-yard touchdown pass after a catch and missed tackle on Donte Jackson. LSU's defense has to feel a little disrespected after that. Depth will be key as keeping players fresh against this spread attack. LSU has faced uptempo schemes this season and the blueprint the Tigers used against Ole Miss would be a good place to start.
Scouting Texas A&M
Huge news came out of College Station on Wednesday when it was reported that quarterback Trevor Knight will start for Texas A&M at quarterback instead of Jake Hubenak. For a player that was supposedly out for the regular season with a shoulder injury, Knight's recovery is pretty incredible. This Aggie offense is much more difficult for teams to defend when he's running the show. Knight will start his final game at Kyle Field on Thanksgiving and the uptempo, spread attack now has a dual-threat at quarterback, something LSU has struggled to defend at times this season. Offensively, Texas A&M loves to get the ball out on the edges to its talented group of playmakers that includes wide receivers Josh Reynolds, Christian Kirk and Speedy Noil to name a couple. Running back Trayveon Williams is one of the top young backs in the conference and helps Texas A&M get some balance in its attack. LSU will have its hands full defending this attack especially without Beckwith lining up at middle linebacker for LSU. Texas A&M will try to run inside on LSU now more so because of that and will move at a quick pace when the team gets solid gains on the ground. That puts strain on the defense and when they're successful, the Aggies can get defenses on its heels and are able to take deep shots down the field when they're having success on the ground.
Defensively, Texas A&M brings one of the top pass rushing tandems in college football with Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. LSU's offensive line will have its hands full with those two and the Aggies will try to find creative ways to get them free rushes on Etling. Ed Orgeron said earlier this week that it might take two to three LSU blockers to keep Garrett in check. The Tigers will have to if they're going to have time to operate in the passing game. Shaan Washington is one of the top linebackers in the conference and will have to step up for Texas A&M if they're going to slow down Guice. The Texas A&M secondary has been opportunistic most of this season, but has fallen on some tough times losing to Ole Miss and Mississippi State. If LSU can find the right matchups to take advantage of, the Tigers should have some success to loosen up the ground game against the Aggies.
Matchup to Watch
Josh Reynolds vs. Tre'Davious White: White will have his hands full as the 6-4, 195-pound Reynolds is a load to handle. Reynolds averages over 18 yards per catch and is the top target for Knight in the receiving corps. The two seniors are two of the best at their positions in the country and White will certainly have to continue his solid play for LSU to have success against this Texas A&M offense. Outside of being beat deep on a 3rd and 22 against Arkansas, White has played about as good as you can at his position. After facing a tough matchup against Antonio Callaway for the Gators and holding him to just two catches for 12 yards, White will have to use technique to cover the stronger Reynolds.
Keys to the Game
Taking care of the football. In road games, this is even more important and when facing a defense like Texas A&M with two ball hawking safeties, Danny Etling and the LSU offense has to be even more careful. When LSU takes shots down the field, the Tigers won't be looking at the depleted safety position that the team saw against Florida, but instead face Armani Watts and Donovan Wilson, two of the better safety tandems in college football. Etling has to be on time and sharp with the football when throwing those deeps shots down the field.
On the flip side of things, LSU has to take away the run game of Texas A&M to make them one-dimensional. It's kind of a pick your poison deal for LSU as the team still has to contend with Texas A&M's bevy of playmakers, but with LSU's secondary still one of the toughest in college football with Thorpe finalist Tre'Davious White, take your chances when matching up against Texas A&M's playmakers.
What to Watch For
When LSU is on Offense: Lots of Guice. With Leonard Fournette limited, LSU showed against Florida that the team will primarily go to Guice when Fournette is out. Backup Darrel Williams only had a couple carries against the Gators so this is Guice's show with Fournette completely out of the mix. On the road, running the football is key and can quiet a crowd quickly if you get on a roll with a long drive. LSU will look to Guice to do just that and be a workhorse. LSU isn't going to beat Texas A&M with Etling putting the team on his back, but with Guice on the other hand, he can do just that.
When LSU is on Defense: Donnie Alexander. The backup to Butkus finalist Kendell Beckwith will get the start with Beckwith out for the game with a knee injury. LSU struggled to stop the run with Alexander in the game and the Tigers need a big game from him and Duke Riley, who Orgeron praised for stepping up and making calls when Beckwith went down.
When Texas A&M is on Offense: Trevor Knight. The senior quarterback can't be 100 percent making this start with his shoulder injury originally expected to keep him out the rest of the regular season, but he's a big upgrade over Hubenak, who was thought to be getting the start against LSU. Knight brings a dual-threat capability and a veteran voice in the huddle, but how much will Texas A&M actually use him in the run game? If the Aggies are comfortable doing that, it'll give the offense an added dimension.
When Texas A&M is on Defense: Can the defensive line pressure Etling and shut down the run? There's plenty of talent along the Texas A&M defensive line for former Tigers defensive coordinator and current Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis to use. That hasn't meant the team can stop the run, but the Aggies have proven to be able to rush the passer. Can K.J. Malone and Toby Weathersby keep them at bay? It's a tough task and LSU struggled with the elite pass rushers of Alabama. Garrett is certainly in that class with Tim Williams. Can LSU make the necessary adjustments to slow them down?
Tiger Blitz Prediction
Billy: LSU comes into this game with a small chance at making the Sugar Bowl still. A lot has to happen, but it can happen for LSU. The Tigers are also still playing for Ed Orgeron to earn the full-time position and with so many rumors swirling around the rumor mill, it could be viewed as a distraction for LSU. Instead, with a short week and plenty to stew on following the loss to Florida, LSU will rely on quick preparation for the Aggies and talent to go on the road and grab a win over Texas A&M, keeping the Tigers unbeaten. Derrius Guice has thrived in a feature role in LSU's offense and I don't expect this to be any different against a suspect Aggie run defense. LSU 31, Texas A&M 17.