Texas A&M Aggies vs. LSU Tigers Complete Game Preview

Jim Sullivan@jsully711Featured ColumnistNovember 22, 2013

Texas A&M Aggies vs. LSU Tigers Complete Game Preview

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    For the first time since 1994, Texas A&M will travel to Baton Rouge, La., to face LSU in Death Valley on Saturday.

    The showdown will mark the Aggies' first meeting with LSU as a fellow conference member and will continue a rivalry that was established in 1899. 

    Texas A&M (8-2, 4-2 SEC) enters the matchup ranked No. 12 in the nation. A win would keep the Aggies' BCS bowl hopes alive as they eye their season finale on the road against No. 8 Missouri on Thanksgiving weekend.

    The historical and rivalry implications for this weekend's matchup are strong as well, as A&M looks to close the gap on an eight-game lead LSU holds between the two programs at 28-20-3.

    For No. 22 LSU (7-3, 3-3 SEC), its ranking would stand to improve dramatically with a victory over the Aggies and would allow for a stronger bowl bid. With losses to Alabama, Georgia and Ole Miss, though, the Tigers sit on the outside looking in and have no maneuvering room left. 

    Time: 3:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 23

    Location: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.

    TV: CBS

    Radio: Texas A&M Sports Network

    Spread: LSU -4 per vegasinsider.com

    *Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand

Will LSU End Manziel's Heisman Hopes?

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    As the Heisman Trophy race continues to heat up, do Johnny Manziel's hopes rest on his performance Saturday against LSU?

Texas A&M Keys to Victory

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    Limit Death Valley Impact

    Since joining the Southeastern Conference in July 2012, Texas A&M has impressed with a perfect 10-0 road record (6-0 SEC), including last season's 29-24 upset of top-ranked Alabama. On Saturday, though, the Aggies will face their toughest road test yet this season, as LSU' will look to shut down the streak at Death Valley

    No matter what, Tiger Stadium will produce its fair share of noise, but if the Texas A&M offense can limit its impact by scoring early and taking a lead, that should provide some relief for adjustment down the stretch. 

    Slash LSU's Third-Down Conversion Rate

    LSU leads the nation in third-down conversion percentage (.577) as it finds ways to extend drives over half the time. The A&M defense must invent methods to get off the field on third downs, either by running complicated blitz packages or coverage schemes. The key will be in holding the Tigers under their season average on converting third downs and allowing the Aggie offense more opportunities to score. 

    Contain Odell Beckham Jr.

    Odell Beckham Jr. ranks second nationally and first in the conference for all-purpose yards (2,090). Approximately half of Beckham's yardage has come in returning punts and kickoffs for more than 900 total yards, meaning the Aggies' special teams must task itself with containing the junior for the entire game. 

LSU Keys to Victory

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    Keep Pace

    The A&M offense loves to score, and score often, leaving Zach Mettenberger and LSU the task of keeping up with Johnny Manziel and the Aggies. Ultimately, consistency and maintaining possession could be the difference between winning and losing on Saturday. For the Tigers, the less time that the ball is in Manziel's hands, the better.

    Slash A&M's Third-Down Conversion Rate

    Remember how LSU ranks first nationally in third-down conversion percentage? Well, A&M just happens to not be far behind, ranking fourth as it has converted 52.9 percent of its attempts on third down. The Tigers defense will be challenged with the same task as the Aggies—stop the opposing offense on third down.

    Good luck with that to both squads.  

    Contain Johnny Manziel 

    While Odell Beckham Jr. may lead the nation in all-purpose yards, a young quarterback under center for A&M's offense just happens to have won the Heisman Trophy last season. Manziel has ripped through just about every opposing defense to face him since taking the field 23 games ago. However, the last defense to make him sputter was LSU in the Tigers' 24-19 victory at Kyle Field last season.

    I'm willing to bet that Manziel has not forgotten that game. The question is, can LSU pull off a repeat performance?

Texas A&M Players to Watch

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    QB Johnny Manziel 

    Shockingly, Manziel continues to impress the college football world, ranking first in points per game (23.4) and completion percentage (.730) while ranking third in passing efficiency (186.9) behind fellow Heisman candidates Bryce Petty and Jameis Winston. 

    Entering Death Valley, the sophomore quarterback's hopes of winning a second straight Heisman Trophy may rest on a strong performance against the Tigers, making this as big of a game as any for Manziel. 

    WR Mike Evans

    Evans, a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist, is ranked third nationally—and first in the conference—in receiving yards (1,263) on just 57 receptions. He will face a stingy LSU secondary. Evans will also be sharing the field with fellow Biletnikoff Award semifinalist Odell Beckham Jr., who ranks third in the SEC in receiving yards at 1,051. 

    S Howard Matthews

    Matthews leads the A&M defense in both tackles (73) and interceptions (3), and looks to pose a major threat to LSU's top receivers—Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Furthermore, Matthews' position has him set in the box multiple times during the game, making him a key responder for A&M when LSU running back Jeremy Hill takes handoffs. 

LSU Players to Watch

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    QB Zach Mettenberger

    The junior college transfer ranks fifth in passer efficiency (176.6) and has been a key cog in the LSU offense, especially with the addition of new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Mettenberger's passing has been crucial down the stretch for the Tigers, and his ability on the deep ball has only been accentuated by the presence of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry at receiver this season. 

    RB Jeremy Hill

    The powerful running back has made his presence felt in the backfield thus far, showing off LSU's traditional ground-and-pound scheme when needed. Hill is second in the SEC in rushing touchdowns with 13 and looks to surpass the 1,000-yard mark in rushing this season, as he is sitting at 964 yards. 

    WR Odell Beckham Jr.

    As already mentioned, Beckham has emerged as one of the SEC's premier athletes, leading the conference in all-purpose yardage (2,090) while ranking third in receiving yards (1,051) behind A&M's Mike Evans and Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews. Beyond the LSU offense, Beckham has emerged as a deadly threat on special teams and will look to make an impact on Saturday at any of his many positions. 

What Are They Saying?

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    During Texas A&M's weekly Tuesday press conference, offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said that the LSU defense, has "reloaded" and will provide a challenge for his versatile offense despite losing seven players in this year's NFL draft:

    It’s really another day in the life in the SEC—a bunch of big, fast, athletic guys, and they’re deep with them. You saw what they lost last year from one of the best defenses in the country and they just reloaded.

    LSU head coach Les Miles discussed his impressions of Johnny Manziel's ability to ad lib and his elusiveness, noting the quarterback's handling of the ball outside the normal bounds of a ball carrier:

    The idea that you handle the ball so effectively with one hand. I mean, it's the dangdest thing I've ever seen. He makes the turn, he'll circle the ball with his hand to make that left‑hand turn. Again, it's a very special talent, strength and ability to move his feet and control the ball. You know what, it doesn't come out of his hand in the pocket, either. He's a guy that has ball security even though he carries it unusually.

    Texas A&M senior wide receiver Travis Labhart, just two weeks removed from playing his final home game at Kyle Field, broke down the prospect of playing in Death Valley in the Aggies' first visit since 1994:

    I always see [Tiger Stadium] on TV, but I’ve never had the opportunity to go down there. But it’s one of those stadiums that’s like Kyle Field — I’m biased, but I think Kyle Field is second to none — but they’re rowdy. They do a great job of backing their team.


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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    LSU 38 Texas A&M 35

    The game will be gritty, edgy and could go either way.

    In this age of college football, where home-field advantage is beginning to come into question, Death Valley will again prove its effect on Saturday, as LSU pulls off the upset of Texas A&M.

    The Tigers' combination of immense talent on offense, consistency and a decent-enough defense will help LSU prevail, but no matter the outcome, this matchup will go down to the wire.