The sixth-ranked LSU Tigers head to the Lone Star State this Saturday for a pivotal SEC Western Division matchup with the 20th-ranked Texas A&M Aggies.
LSU opened the season with five straight wins before suffering its lone setback with a 14-6 loss at Florida on Oct. 6. With their national championship hopes taking a serious hit, the Tigers gathered themselves and rebounded with a 23-21 win over previously unbeaten South Carolina last weekend, setting the stage for an interesting next couple of games as they will not only take on Texas A&M this week, but will play host to No. 1 Alabama two weeks later.
The Aggies are enjoying an impressive start to the 2012 campaign, their first as members of the SEC, as they come into this contest sporting a 5-1 mark, their lone loss also coming against Florida in their season opener back on Sept. 8. Texas A&M battled non-league foe Louisiana Tech in Shreveport last Saturday, prevailing in a wild 59-57 final. The loss snapped the Bulldogs' national-best 12-game regular-season winning streak. The Aggies will also face Alabama this year, doing so in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 10.
LSU leads the all-time series with Texas A&M, 27-20-3, and won the most recent meeting in the 2011 Cotton Bowl (41-24).
Led by QB Zach Mettenberger, the LSU offense ranks in the middle of the SEC pack in terms of scoring (32.0 ppg), which isn't anything to sneeze at considering the potent teams that call the conference home. Still, Mettenberger would like to be more consistent as he is completing just 59.8 percent of his passes for 1,322 yards, six TDs and four interceptions. He spreads the ball around, with Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry both logging 22 catches for a combined 604 yards and three TDs. The run game accounts for 206.9 ypg, and features a talented stable of backs, led by Kenny Hilliard (415 yards, six TDs). In all, six guys have rushed for at least 100 yards this season.
The LSU defense is as formidable as ever, with foes averaging just 14.0 points and 219.6 yards per game. The Tigers ranks just below Alabama in the SEC in both run defense (89.3 ypg) and pass defense (130.3 ypg), and they also rank second in the league in sacks (20). Kevin Minter has been LSU's most active defender to this point in the season, logging 63 tackles, of which 8.5 have taken place behind the line of scrimmage. Sam Montgomery leads the hit parade on opposing quarterbacks, securing four sacks.
Coming off its first regular-season loss in 18 games, there were some who thought the Tigers might not respond favorably in last week's showdown with South Carolina, but respond they did as they earned a hard-fought victory in front of a raucous home crowd. Jeremy Hill was the star of the LSU offense, rumbling his way to 124 yards and a pair of TDs, while Mettenberger went 12- of-25 for 148 yards with an interception. He did however, make some heady plays as he helped the Tigers convert 11-of-19 third-down attempts.
On the heels of the Florida loss, it was important for the Tigers to play well last week, and Mettenberger believes that goal was accomplished.
"I think we executed a lot better. That showed on the scoreboard and in the yards we put out. Really, that's what we should have been doing all year because we knew we could do it. From here on out, we just got to show up with the same mentality and attitude we had this past week and just keep looking to get better."
The LSU defense stood tall throughout, yielding a mere 34 net rushing yards and only 211 yards of total offense. LB Lamin Barrow had a career-best 12 tackles while Minter finished with nine. The Tigers tallied four sacks, two of which were credited to Montgomery. They also came up with a pair of picks while holding the Gamecocks to 3-of-13 success on third down.
Texas A&M is the top offensive team in the SEC, averaging a robust 47.0 ppg on the strength of 543.7 total yards per contest. Both figures are far and away the highest in the league, and the Aggies present a balanced attack that typically generates 235.8 ypg on the ground and 307.8 ypg through the air. QB Johnny Manziel isn't playing like your typical freshman, as he leads the conference in rushing (112.7 ypg, 10 TDs) while ranking third in passing (.674, 1,680 yards, 14 TDs, three interceptions). Mike Evans has been Manziel's go-to guy more often than not, as he currently sits third in the league with 36 receptions, 549 yards and two TDs.
As for the A&M defense, it allows an average of 21.8 ppg to rank sixth in the league, and the team's effort against the run (124.7 ypg) has been much better than its showing against the pass (280.8 ypg). Led by Damontre Moore's 8.5 sacks (tied for second in the country), the Aggies have taken down the opposing quarterback 19 times. However, the unit has come up with only seven turnovers to date.
Manziel accounted for six TDs in leading the Aggies to their thrilling win over Louisiana Tech last week. The young signal-caller ran for 181 yards and three TDs and threw for 395 yards and three more scores, as the A&M offense churned out 678 total yards. Evans was once agains high man among the receivers, hauling in four balls for 137 yards and a TD. The Aggies were a highly-efficient 15-of-22 on third down.
LaTech simply would not go away last Saturday, the Bulldogs rolling up 615 yards of total offense, 450 of which came via the pass. The Aggies allowed just 5-of-17 third-down opportunities to be converted successfully, and Moore had another outstanding game in posting 17 tackles.
Even with his defense giving up a ton to LaTech, which is a very good offensive football team, A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin was more upset over the 19 penalties his team committed.
"That is stuff we have been talking about since we got here with ball security and penalties. That is something we have been working on and emphasizing, but obviously we have done a poor job and we did a poor job of that tonight. I have never ever been in a football game with that many penalties."