The SEC schedule is starting to really heat up, and few games are bigger this weekend than national title contender LSU travelling to College Station to take on SEC newcomers Texas A&M.
Well, that South Carolina versus Florida tilt is pretty big too, but there are still a ton of implications to this one.
Can LSU slow down redshirt freshman and Heisman dark horse Johnny Manziel? Can the Tigers rediscover enough of an offensive spark if this game becomes a shootout? Or will LSU's stout defense be enough to lead the team to a win?
Questions, so many questions. Let's see if we can answer a few of them.
Where: Kyle Field, College Station, Texas
When: Saturday, October 20 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: LSU (-3.5), according to Bet Online
Take the points with A&M. They have a fantastic offense that should be able to put points on the board, and they'll have the famous "12th Man" behind them. Even if LSU wins, I don't think the offense puts up enough points to do so convincingly.
Over/Under: 52 points, according to Bet Online
Take the under. I just can't imagine LSU's defense allowing Texas A&M to put up too many points, and heaven knows LSU is unlikely to blow many teams out with an offensive onslaught. I will say, however, that this number being as high as it is suggests Vegas thinks the Aggies will be a handful for the LSU defense.
LSU Injuries (via USA Today)
FB J.C. Copeland, Ankle, Questionable
T Alex Hurst, Personal, Questionable
G Josh Williford, Concussion, Questionable
Texas A&M Injuries (via USA Today)
DL Spencer Nealy, Leg, Questionable
WR Ryan Swope, Head, Questionable
LB Steve Jenkins, Suspension, Questionable
DB Howard Matthews, Suspension, Questionable
An LSU win keeps them in the National Championship picture. A win for Texas A&M keeps them in the SEC West race, would be a huge statement in the school's first year in the SEC and gives Johnny Manziel the key win he'll need to stay in the Heisman picture.
Key to LSU Win
This one is pretty simple—slow down Manziel, and LSU is likely to win this game. The Texas A&M quarterback has gaudy numbers this year, throwing for 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns (three interceptions) and rushed for 676 yards and 10 touchdowns.
And LSU has struggled against good rushing quarterbacks this year.
If Manziel doesn't beat them, Texas A&M won't either. LSU has a good enough defense to neutralize the Aggies other weapons if Manziel struggles.
Keys to Texas A&M Win
The Aggies need to learn from the Florida loss. Manziel and company may be running roughshod over teams like Arkansas, but we've seen them struggle against a top-notch defense like Florida.
They can expect the same level of defensive play from LSU, which is second in the nation in total defense and eighth in points allowed.
Still, every time Manziel drops back to pass, LSU may be stuck between a rock and a hard place. Consider the following from Edward Aschoff of ESPN:
According to ESPN Stats & Information, more than 70 percent of Manziel’s rushing yards (475) have come on scrambles. That’s 90 more scrambling yards than Denard Robinson, Braxton Millerand Collin Klein combined. Manziel leads the SEC in rushing touchdowns (seven), 20-plus yard rushes (nine) and rushing yards per game (79.1) when scrambling.
LSU’s opponents are averaging 7.7 yards per rush on 11 scrambles this season. And on third down, where Manziel leads the nation with 12 rushing first downs on third down and at least 5 yards to go, LSU opponents are averaging 11.5 yards per scramble and have three first downs on six scrambles, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
If LSU becomes too preoccupied with Manziel scrambling, he should be able to exploit matchups down the field. If LSU doesn't spy him, well, we all know what happens then. It will be interesting to see how the Tigers approach this conundrum, and whether or not Manziel can make them pay for whatever strategy they use.
When a great SEC offense squares off against a great SEC defense, my tendency is to side with the team possessing the better defense. I'm not going to change my philosophy now. LSU wins, 17-16.
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