Five things to watch for as Texas A&M takes on No. 2 LSU
Texas A&M will take on No. 2 LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Saturday night in their final regular season game of 2019.
Last year’s matchup at Kyle Field saw the Aggies win 74-72 after seven overtimes. It was the highest scoring game in college football history, and emotions will be riding high at Tiger Stadium this weekend.
Here are five things to watch in Saturday’s SEC matchup:
1. Will Texas A&M bounce back on the ground?
The Aggies had a terrible time running the ball against Georgia last weekend, ending the game with a total of minus-two yards. Freshman running back Isaiah Spiller rushed for seven yards on nine carries, while quarterback Kellen Mond lost nine yards during the game. The longest run of the night was a nine-yard scramble from Mond.
The Tigers rank fifth in the SEC in rush defense, allowing an average of 129.3 yards per game. They have allowed five players to rush for at least 100 yards this season, so Spiller and the Aggie rushing attack should have hope bouncing back on Saturday night.
2. Can the Aggies stop Joe Burrow and the LSU passing attack?
The Tigers have the second-best offense in the entire country and the top-ranked passing offense in the SEC that averages 386 yards per game in the air. The offense is led by quarterback Joe Burrow who has a conference-best 4,014 yards and 41 touchdowns this season.
“Burrow is a heck of a player,” Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He’s playing as good as any quarterback in a long time. I mean, 78 percent completion percentage, that’s amazing. Guys are catching the ball, but he’s doing things.”
LSU also fields two of the top three receivers in the SEC. Ja’Marr Chase is first in the conference with 1,260 yards and 15 touchdowns, while averaging 20 yards per reception. Justin Jefferson is close behind, totaling 1,037 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“This receiving corps, from watching the tape and looking closely, they make plays and they’re dynamic,” safety Keldrick Carper said. “They have fun when they play. They’re a good group.”
The Aggies have a solid pass defense that ranks fourth in the SEC, allowing an average of 192 yards per game. Even with the opponents they have faced in 2019, Saturday night will be their toughest test yet.
3. Will Texas A&M take advantage of a porous LSU pass defense?
Defense is not the strength of this LSU team, ranking 9th in total defense in the SEC. That is especially true when it comes to defending the pass. The Tigers rank 10th in the SEC in pass defense, allowing an average of 232 yards per game. Even so, Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said the Tigers have a lot of talent on that side of the ball.
“Defensively, they have very good players,” Fisher said. “They have two or three first round draft picks on that defense right now. They have guys on the first level, second level and third level that’ll affect you. They have a lot of experience.”
It is still a good match up for Texas A&M’s offense, which ranks fourth in the SEC, averaging 260 yards per game. Kellen Mond ranks third in the SEC with 2,710 total yards and 19 touchdowns.
One of Mond’s favorite targets is freshman tight end Jalen Wydermyer, who has totaled 406 yards (third in the SEC among tight ends) and six touchdowns this season, while averaging 14.5 yards per reception. The Aggies’ top receiver is junior Jhamon Ausbon, who has totaled 840 yards and four touchdowns.
“His character, his intelligence and his toughness,” Fisher said about the keys to Ausbon’s emergence as an upper classman. “That guy is a total team guy. … Whatever he has to do for this team, he will do. I have tremendous respect for him as a human being. He’s one of the true leaders we have.”
Do not be surprised if the Aggies are aggressive in the air on Saturday night.
4. Can the Aggies hold Clyde Edwards-Helaire under 100 yards?
If Texas A&M’s defense did not already have enough to worry about in the air, they also need to be ready to stop one of the best running backs in the country. Clyde Edwards-Helaire ranks second in the SEC with 1,146 yards and a conference-best 15 touchdowns. The junior averages seven yards per carry, and has exceeded 100 yards in each of his last four games.
“They have an excellent back,” Fisher said of Edwards-Helaire, who also has 289 receiving yards and a touchdown this season. “He can run and catch the ball. You ask, ‘does he run it better or catch it better?’ Yes. I mean, very dynamic.”
The Aggies have held some talented running backs to limited yards this season, but did allow 103 yards to D’Andre Swift last week and 150 yards to Kylin Hill four weeks ago. Texas A&M will need be sharp on Saturday if they want to limit Edwards-Helaire.
5. How will Texas A&M fare on the road in another tough environment?
Other than some pre-snap penalties, Texas A&M held up better than many people expected at Georgia last weekend. Quarterback Kellen Mond said playing in several hostile stadiums over the course of the year has helped the Aggies get ready for this season’s final game.
“Playing on the road against Clemson and against Georgia, playing in different environments, bringing our own energy is something I feel like we’ve gotten better at,” Mond said. “Going into this LSU game, I think that’s going to be really big.”
Tiger Stadium will likely be at another level of hostility and intensity on Saturday night – especially after last season’s seven-overtime thriller at Kyle Field. Having been on both sidelines in Baton Rouge, Fisher said he understands how much passion there is.
“The people there genuinely love LSU,” Fisher said. “It’s the state university. It’s the flagship university. They live, eat and breath it. … The environment and the atmosphere. Football is important there. It’s one of the great venues in college football, and we’re fortunate enough to be able to go and play in it.”
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