The No. 12 Texas A&M Aggies have a lethal offense led by reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. They are averaging 49.2 points per game, good for fifth in the nation, and 578 yards per game, putting them just behind Baylor and Oregon in the top three.
Their defense has been their undoing however, with shootout losses to Alabama and Auburn placing them third in the SEC West at 8-2. In each defeat, they scored over 40 points but lost. Facing them Saturday at 3:30 ET on CBS are the LSU Tigers, who have an offense that can both keep pace and control the ball, not to mention the superior defense, all of which will keep the game close.
LSU is 7-3 and ranked 22nd in the nation despite being tied for third in its own division with Ole Miss, who nipped the Tigers 27-24 back in October. The Tigers' other two defeats came from ranked SEC opponents in Georgia and last week against Alabama. Still stinging from that loss to the division-dominating Crimson Tide, LSU welcomes Manziel to Baton Rouge.
While the Aggies offense has been one of the most potent in the nation, the Tigers have weapons of their own in the running and passing game, and they've proven that their defense can vex "Johnny Football."
Manziel has been so good under center for Texas A&M, he actually justifies his Johnny Football nickname. He has tossed 31 TDs with 11 picks this year and hung 42 points on the vaunted defense of the Crimson Tide, albeit in a losing effort. Here is a truly bizarre stat: In A&M's two losses this year, receiver Mike Evans totaled 566 receiving yards. The Aggies will get their offense, but they put themselves at risk when weak defense makes it a shootout.
LSU is no slouch on offense either, averaging 460.4 yards (32nd) and 37.9 points per game (20th). Junior wideout Jarvis Landry has put together a sterling season with 63 catches for 972 yards and eight scores. Fellow junior Odell Beckham has outdone him with a robust 20.6 yards per catch on 51 receptions and eight touchdowns as well.
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has gotten a little turnover happy lately, with five INTs in a two-week stretch this month, including two picks against Furman. That's a school, in case you didn't know.
Mettenberger will have to avoid mistakes against an opportunistic Aggies D that has snatched 15 interceptions on the season, including three brought back for touchdowns. Still, he's posting 273 passing yards and two touchdowns per game, plus fewer picks (seven) than Manziel. He's also coming off an interception-free performance in the loss to Alabama.
The linchpin to the Tigers attack is sophomore running back Jeremy Hill who has toted the rock with authority this season. He found the end zone in eight of nine games for 13 TDs in all, and he's averaging a handsome 6.8 yards per carry.
Jeremy Hill putting LSU ON HIS BACK. Hill has 14 carries for 152 yards and 2 TD at the half. Bayou Bengals up 21-0. #AUBvsLSU— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 22, 2013
The only three games in which Hill was held under six yards per carry were the Tigers' three losses. He also ripped Auburn in late September for his best game of the season on 184 yards and three touchdowns. If LSU can get the running game working early, it will keep A&M's leaky D off-balance and also keep the ball away from Manziel.
Johnny Football will be eager to avenge last year's 24-19 loss to LSU that saw him play the worst game of his Heisman season. As observed by Sam Khan Jr. of ESPN.com, Manziel was dreadful against the Tigers defense that day:
The Tigers are the team that held Manziel to career-worsts in several areas, according to ESPN Stats and Information. His completion percentage was the lowest he has ever had (51.8) in a game. So were his yards per pass attempt (4.9). His minus-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio was a career low as was his Total QBR (25.8). His signature running ability? That was bottled up too, as LSU held him to 27 yards, a season-low in 2012 and a career-low 1.6 yards per carry.
Of course, LSU's defense looks very different from last year's after losing Barkevious Mingo and Kevin Minter among others to the NFL. Still, as Stanford proved against Oregon in early November, sometimes one team just has the other's number and they know how to match up against them.
The Tigers have been stingier than A&M on defense, yielding 23.5 points and 353.7 yards per game, but they have snagged only six interceptions on the season. If they can contain the Aggies' rushing attack, which is also led by Manziel, they may be able to force him into making mistakes as he did with a three-interception game in 2012.
Texas A&M's defense has allowed 30.9 points and 454.4 yards per game. Thanks to Hill, LSU has a more balanced offensive attack, and the Tigers will keep pace with the Aggies scoring as long as Mettenberger doesn't throw it to his opponent. The Tigers have the superior defense and frustrated Manziel like no other team has been able to, which puts them in great position to steal a win in this weekend's home game.
Can the Tigers offense hang with A&M?
The over-under entering Saturday is 73 according to Bovada. The game is likely to be a shootout, and the Tigers defense will keep them hanging in there.
In a game that could be decided by just a few points, don't forget the third phase of the game along with offense and defense: special teams. The Aggies kickers have missed two of their 10 field-goal attempts this season—both inside of 40 yards—and have flubbed four extra points. The Tigers have missed only one field goal and one extra point all season.
Manziel won't struggle against LSU to the degree he did last season, but it will be a close game with some crooked numbers on the scoreboard. If Hill has his mojo working, the Tigers could very well slaughter the Aggies once again.