This is not how the LSU Tigers expected to prepare for the Texas A&M Aggies in 2020, limping into Kyle Field with three losses and only pride to play for. The attrition from 2019 has slammed the Tigers more than anyone anticipated, but that’s not the full story for Ed Orgeron’s team.
By Matt Zemek
COVID-19 opt-outs and coaching changes (Joe Brady to the Carolina Panthers, and Myles Brennan getting hurt) have also thrown monkey wrenches into this season. Derek Stingley has been hurt, severely crippling LSU’s pass defense.
Usually, Texas A&M tries to play spoiler in this matchup, but this year, the roles are reversed. The Aggies have a shot at the College Football Playoff and are on track to play in a New Year’s Six bowl game. Can LSU ruin everything? Let’s see what the Tigers can do on Saturday night:
1 – Play the “long” game
If you have watched LSU this season, you know that consistency has been elusive for the Tigers. They can play well in 10-minute segments but very rarely put together complete halves or games. This is a mistake-prone team which builds momentum but then steps on a rake to undo the good things it achieves. What must a team try to do when it owns this kind of identity? Obviously, LSU should seek a steadier and more reliable way of proceeding in which it cuts down mistakes, but that probably isn’t going to be eliminated overnight. If a high-variance team – capable of good play but prone to wild fluctuations in performance – knows it is vulnerable to making mistakes, how should it try to play?
Multiple answers are acceptable here, but the one which seems best is to reduce LSU’s overall reliance on slow and methodical football. This isn’t a team built for the 13-play, 80-yard drive on offense, and it’s not a team built to withstand patient, methodical drives by opposing teams.
LSU’s offense needs to be built around not just a deep ball, but tempo, so that the skill players on offense – centrally quarterback T.J. Finley – have less time to overthink and can attack A&M freely. Conventional, methodical offense is less likely to work. Taking chances but also throwing A&M an up-tempo look give LSU’s offense the best chance of succeeding.
On defense, it’s also about the “long” game. If LSU needs to attempt to throw the deep ball on offense, it needs to encourage A&M quarterback Kellen Mond to beat the Tigers with the deep ball. Mond is not an accurate deep-ball thrower. He prefers to work the ball short and take what the defense gives him… but if the defense takes away short throws, he is not a proven long-ball thrower. If LSU can shape this into a vertical game on both sides of the ball, it has a chance. If this game is played in seven- or 10-yard chunks and within the context of methodical drives, A&M is by far the more consistent team.
2 – The run of play
The A&M running game has two dimensions: Isaiah Spiller taking handoffs from Kellen Mond, and Mond scrambling in the open field. LSU has to take these elements away from the Aggies, so that Mond has to win this game with his arm. Spiller’s running has put Mond in favorable down-and-distance situations which create easier throws and less pressure from opposing pass rushers. LSU has to key on Spiller to force Mond to throw. Then, when Mond drops back, LSU has to shut off the quarterback’s running lanes and keep him penned in the pocket. Easy to say, much harder to do.
3 – Value added
LSU’s special teams were better than Arkansas’ special teams, a crucial part of the Tigers’ win this past weekend. The Tigers will need to find some big plays in this component of the contest if they want to rebalance the equation and pull a road upset as a two-touchdown underdog.
Saturday‘s game kicks off at 6:00 PM CT (7:00 PM ET). You can watch this LSU football game on the ESPN Network.