LSU was up against a pretty tough battle on Saturday in College Station. First, the Tigers were coming off an emotional, hard fought win the previous week against South Carolina. Combined with the early kickoff, it screamed "let down game". Then, you had the reality that the 20th ranked Aggies have a pretty good football team with a solid home field advantage. The Aggie program had the LSU game circled on the calendar as their biggest game in their inaugural SEC season. They wanted this one bad. So for LSU to win this game on the road was no small feat and one that should be celebrated rather than nitpicked. In those circumstances, you take victory any way you can get it.
LSU got off to an alarmingly slow start. After some adjustments by the Chief, the defense started to figure out A&M's offense. Then, they went one step further and completely controlled them. The offense took some time but eventually got the running game going a bit, again with Jeremy Hill leading the way. As we know and have said many times here, nothing else LSU tries to do on offense works unless they're running the football. After falling behind 12-0 early, LSU went on a 24-0 run before A&M scored very late against a soft, prevent-style LSU defense. At the end of the day, LSU had racked up 219 yards rushing and the defense came up big with several turnovers.
– LSU's defense clearly had a plan to keep Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel in the pocket to try and limit his effectiveness as a runner. Coming into the game as the SEC's leading rusher, Manziel finished with just 27 net yards. He accomplished zero on any designed quarterback runs and burned LSU just once by scrambling when he rushed for 14 yards on a 3rd and 13.
– Manziel also had a reputation for making plays in the passing game when he was outside the pocket. LSU really limited his effectiveness here. On plays where he was either outside the pocket or under pressure from LSU's defense, Manziel completed just 3 of 13 passes. He threw two interceptions and was sacked three times. One of his three completions was the last play of the game when LSU was essentially allowing A&M any completion under 40 yards.
– On offense, LSU certainly took their shots down the field. Unfortunately, they had very little success. But LSU's staff showed confidence in the passing game by trying to take advantage of single coverage on the outside. I counted nine times that LSU took a shot down the field.
They completed just one of the nine, which was the touchdown pass to Kadron Boone at the end of the first half.
Another was a well thrown ball that almost certainly would have been caught had the defender not interfered with Odell Beckham.
Another to Boone was slightly under thrown but was well covered and the defender made a play on the ball.
All of the remaining throws were overthrown. One to Beckham in the first half and one to Nic Jacobs late in the game were wide open and just missed by Mettenberger. The pass to Jacobs was an absolute gift, and Mett just blew it. Obviously, hitting one or two more of those would have drastically changed this game and the perception of Mettenberger's day.
– I was at the game and I will say it was extremely windy in there. In no way am I making excuses for Mettenberger missing those balls, but the wind simply had to affect deep throws, at least a little.
– Of those nine deep balls, six came on 1st and 10. So not only was LSU trying to take advantage of a perceived advantage against the defense, but they were also trying to loosen up the defense on first down. It may have worked too. When running the ball on first down, LSU averaged 8.1 yards per carry. If you want to be "that guy" and take out Jeremy Hill's long touchdown, LSU still averaged 5.4 yards per carry. Those numbers are per Billy Gomilla at And The Valley Shook.
– Early in the fourth quarter and clinging to a 14-12 lead, LSU started a drive at their own 34 yard line. They then ripped off eight consecutive running plays for the following yardage amounts: 7, 2, 6, 6, 5, 5, 8, 18., Only once during that sequence did LSU even face a third down. The mood amongst the LSU faithful at the game was that LSU was doing it again, they were wearing down A&M's defense and were about to punch in this touchdown. EVERYONE in the stadium knew that LSU was about to score. It would be a touchdown drive of nothing but running plays and would totally demoralize A&M and would essentially end the game. But then for some ridiculous reason, LSU tried to get cute. They threw a receiver screen on first and goal which was stopped for a three yard loss.
Then faced with an obvious passing situation inside the 10 yard line, Les Miles ran the ball twice out of the "Warecat", clearly not trusting Zach Mettenberger in that situation and understanding that a field goal was huge there. With all of the issues that LSU has had in converting "goal to go" situations into touchdowns, it's hard to believe that LSU screwed that one up.
– I thought Tharold Simon played one of the worst games of his career. He was routinely picked on in the first half. However, he came up with a huge interception when LSU really needed it.
– A week ago, we all heaped praise upon LSU's offensive line because the pieced together unit performed so well against South Carolina. All of a sudden, that kind of performance is becoming almost expected. They performed at a high level once again, but this week they're not receiving the same accolades. Well…I give them props. High expectations are a good thing. Meeting them is even better. I'm interested to see if LSU's staff tinkers with the lineup when Josh Williford is healthy again.
– Texas A&M's star defensive end Damontre Moore had some very nice things to say about LSU's offensive line:
"Probably the most talented offensive line we have played here. They were talented athletically and they had the mean streak that you want.”
Tracking The Stats
– With 219 rushing yards to Texas A&M's 134, LSU had a rushing differential of +85 on the day. For the season, LSU averages a differential of +113.5, good for 14th nationally and third in the SEC behind Alabama and Florida.
– LSU continues to be strong in pass efficiency defense, ranking second nationally. However, their pass efficiency on offense keeps falling and their differential is falling as a result. LSU still has a healthy +32.75 in pass efficiency differential on the season which is sixth in the SEC behind (in order) Alabama, Florida, Mississippi State, Georgia, and South Carolina.
– In the field position battle, LSU lost but just barely. Texas A&M's average starting field position was their 31 yard line while LSU's was their 30 yard line. In a game where the turnover margin is +5, that's unusual to see. For the season, LSU still enjoys a field position advantage by averaging a start at their own 35 while opponents average a start from their own 26. However in SEC games, LSU is nearly dead even. They start at their own 30 yard line while opponents start at their own 29. When comparing this to the last two LSU teams, this is a big advantage in "hidden yards" that is suddenly missing. LSU is not pinning opponents deep on punts when they have opportunities to do so, and they're not getting impactful punt returns.
– LSU added eight more tackles for loss against Texas A&M, giving them 65 on the season or 8.13 per game. That ranks sixth nationally and second in the SEC behind, believe it or not, Missouri. The surprise on this stat is that Alabama is way back at 49th nationally.
– Somewhat quietly, LSU has slowly been winning the turnover margin lately. They're now back to +9 on the season, fourth in the SEC and tied for 16th in the nation.
– LSU had a whopping 13 penalties for 102 yards. The last time LSU had over 100 penalty yards in a game was over two years ago when they had 120 against West Virginia in a 20-14 win in Tiger Stadium. In number of penalties per game, LSU ranks 113 of 120 teams with 8.50 per game. In penalty yardage, LSU is 90th, giving up 64.88 penalty yards per game. Needless to say, LSU commits entirely too many penalties and it's something that has to be cleaned up. They simply can't lose the "hidden yardage" game against Alabama and expect to win.