Texas A&M vs. LSU Will Be Best SEC Offensive Showdown of 2013

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistNovember 18, 2013

COLLEGE STATION, TX - OCTOBER 20:  Johnny Manziel #2 of the Texas A&M Aggies runs the ball against Deion Jones #45 of the LSU Tigers at Kyle Field on October 20, 2012 in College Station, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

What do you get when unstoppable force meets exceedingly movable object?

What do you get when it happens twice?

We'll find out some of those answers on Saturday, when Texas A&M plays LSU in Baton Rouge—a game that pits two of the nation's most potent offenses against a pair of struggling defenses.

That's not hyperbole either, by the way. These are truly two of America's top offenses. Through Week 12, here are the national yards-per-play leaders against FBS opponents:

NCAA Yards Per Play Leaders (against FBS teams), 2013
TeamYards Per Play
1. Baylor8.38
2. Florida State7.83
3. Texas A&M7.56
4. Oregon7.45
5. Wisconsin7.33
6. Ohio State7.10
7. Northern Illinois7.09
8. Louisville6.96
9. Alabama6.91
10. LSU6.85
Source: cfbstats.com

Ranking top-10 in per-play efficiency puts both offenses in rarified air, especially Texas A&M, which finds itself nuzzled between juggernauts like Oregon and Florida State. But LSU is far from a slouch.

So far this season, when two offenses this good have met each other, the chances of getting a shootout have been pretty high—especially when neither boasts an elite defense.

The next five offenses in yards per play against FBS opponents are UCF (6.82), Miami (6.78), Georgia (6.72), Auburn (6.69) and New Mexico (6.66).

There have been nine games this year between two teams in that national top 15. Here is the offensive output from those meetings, along with the average yards per play allowed by those teams' respective defenses:

Games Between Top-15 Offenses (in YPP), 2013
TeamsPointsYardsAvg. Def. YPP Allowed
Alabama at Texas A&M911,1965.45
Auburn at LSU568945.62
LSU at Georgia859435.51
Wisconsin at Ohio State556894.70
UCF at Louisville738914.88
Auburn at Texas A&M861,2175.94
Miami at Florida State557924.92
LSU at Alabama556565.06
Georgia at Auburn811,0985.73
Texas A&M at LSU??????5.75
Source: ESPN/cfbstats.com

The baseline stats for games between top-15 offenses are pretty good. On average, they have checked in with roughly 71 points and 931 yards per game, which are both impressively high numbers.

But they are also just the tip of the iceberg. When correlated with defensive yards per play allowed—the fourth column in that table—those averages are off the charts.

Oct 19, 2013; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) scores a 1-yard touchdown run against the Auburn Tigers during the second half at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Texas A&M at LSU will feature defenses that combine to allow over 5.70 yards per play. That was the case in just two of the charted games (between top-15 offenses), and the average output in those contests was roughly 84 points and 1,158 yards per game!

Numbers like that are eye-popping and would immediately put this matchup in the conversation for best offensive showdown, along with games like Alabama-Texas A&M, Auburn-Texas A&M and Auburn-Georgia.

It's important, though, to slightly temper expectations. Based on linear regression, which was calculated independently, two defenses this bad are projected to allow 80.6 points and 1,096 yards against a pair of top-15 offenses.

Those numbers are a more accurate representation of the data, and they're still very good. They still project a giant shootout—just one that is slightly smaller than the SEC's biggest this year.

However, since the numbers are so close, they also don't eliminate that possibility. And based on further investigation, this game might exceed its numerical projections.

ATHENS, GA - SEPTEMBER 28: Jarvis Landry #80 of the LSU Tigers runs with a catch for a touchdown against Damian Swann #5 of the Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium on September 28, 2013 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Saturday's game projects to be within striking distance of this year's biggest shootouts, and that is with a conservative estimate, based upon nothing but strict data. That projection takes into account none of the context, and those outside factors could help push this game past any other SEC shootout.

One of those factors would be the dual bye that these teams enjoyed in Week 12. Neither team was active last week, so each should come in healthy, rested and ready to put up points.

With an extra week to game-plan, savvy offensive minds like Kevin Sumlin and Cam Cameron have been allowed extra time to scout their opponent. The tape shows a plethora of weaknesses in both defenses, and offensive gurus like these should be able to exploit those holes.

There's also the factor of matchups. The stronger offense is going up against the stronger defense, while the (slightly) weaker offense is going up against the (much) weaker defense.

The Aggies haven't stopped anybody all year. Even teams like Rice and Sam Houston State have found some success against them. In Tiger Stadium, it's almost a given that LSU will find a way to move the ball at will. Anything else would be a shock.

But the Aggies also haven't been stopped by anybody all year. In theory, LSU's defense—while not great—should be just good enough to prevent this from becoming a shootout. But given what Texas A&M did to Alabama earlier this year, does anyone really think that's the case?

By that token, this is really a bet on Johnny Manziel. His defense will let him down, as it has all season, and Johnny Football will be tasked with keeping up. The extent of this shootout depends on whether or not he plays well.

If he does, this game has a chance to exceed its regression estimate and surpass any SEC shootout we've seen this season—even though there have been quite a lot.

Is anyone willing to bet against Manziel?

If you are, I don't know what you've been watching these past two years.


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