As LSU enters its final stretch of games on the 2020 schedule, consistency should be one of the main goals the team tries to accomplish. We've seen both sides of this LSU squad, the one that is focused and executing at the level many had hoped entering the season (South Carolina) and the youthful team that showed just how much it needed to grow up (Auburn).
With No. 5 Texas A&M on deck, the Tigers can't afford to be the latter this weekend or the result could very much be what LSU did to the Aggies just one year ago. That game resulted in a 50-7 LSU victory on senior night where everything went perfect for the purple and gold.
Now, starting in College Station, finding a rhythm and confidence that can be propelled into next season is what these final four games should be about. Here are a few predictions for Saturday evening's game.
Score Prediction: Texas A&M 38, LSU 27
This matchup is certainly not a favorable one for the Tigers as Texas A&M comes in with one of the top rushing attacks and rushing defenses in the country. Stopping the run on defense and getting the run game going on offense have been two areas LSU has been inconsistent with this season but is perhaps coming off its best performance of the season in both categories.
The front seven was in much better position throughout the course of the win against Arkansas, holding Razorback running backs to 61 yards on the ground. But Isaiah Spiller, Kellen Mond and an offensive line that coach Ed Orgeron called one of the best the team has faced this season, is a different beast all together.
Spiller is currently No. 4 in the conference in rushing yards with 643 and five touchdowns but Mond has also been known to be a mobile quarterback. The now senior signal caller hasn't run the ball as much in 2020 but has rushed for over 1,400 yards and 19 touchdowns over his four-year career with the Aggies.
That's going to add another dynamic according to linebacker Jabril Cox, who thought the defense took some strides on the ground last weekend and that comes with the preparation and improvement the unit has made over the last three weeks.
"Adding on quickly to our coverage is something that will stop the running backs from getting out. Just attacking the holes is something that we worked on with these past weeks," Cox said. "Not having the o-line get up on us so just hurrying up and adding on to our coverage is something that we've worked on."
LSU hasn't really faced too many mobile quarterbacks but when it has, the defense has struggled mightily. Just go back two games as Bo Nix arguably had the best game of his two-year career, throwing for 300 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for an additional 81 yards and a touchdown.
Expect the Tigers to have their moments against Texas A&M, particularly trying to force a few game changing turnovers. That will play a big part in the defense having some level of success as the explosive plays have still been a problem for this unit six games into the season.
On offense, LSU also faces possibly its most challenging opponents as the Aggies have been one of the top defenses against the run in the entire country. Allowing just over 95 yards on the ground, ranking No. 12 nationally, LSU will likely try and follow a similar gameplan to last week but it needs a standout performance from the offensive line and running backs to accomplish it.
What made LSU successful was its ability to put quarterback TJ Finley in third-and-short situations thanks to three and four-yard gains on the ground. The Tigers went 12-of-23 on third down against the Razorbacks and it'll be up to John Emery and Tyrion Davis-Price to hit the holes and get those chunks of yardage to keep the Aggie offense on the sidelines.
Whether or not the offensive line can create these holes and give Finley the time to make those quick reads that LSU has tried to give him is another question. Center Liam Shanahan said from watching film on Texas A&M, while the defensive line may not move as quick as others the Tigers have faced, they do a good job of clogging the lanes and getting off the field on third down.
"It's going to be an important week to stay ahead of the chains, making sure we're in third and manageable this week and that'll make it a lot easier for us," Shanahan said. "We have a lot of talent, I really do believe that in our offensive line room so just trusting the technique and putting it on the field and in games."
This will also be an important week for the freshman Finley, who's going up against the first top 25 opponent of his young career and will need to stay his calm and collected self to make sure this offense consistently can move the chains. In LSU's two wins over South Carolina and Arkansas with Finley behind center, the freshman quarterback has completed 70% of his passes for 536 yards and five total touchdowns with just one turnover.
Finding that consistency for a second straight week will be the ultimate indicator in how LSU performs this weekend. While the point spread is set at 14.5, if the Tigers can be consistent in the run game while limiting the Aggies on the ground as well, it will allow for the explosive plays the defense is bound to give up to not be as costly.
Remember, LSU did hold Arkansas to eight three-and-outs last weekend which is a trend that will need to continue if it hopes to have a chance in the fourth quarter. A second straight solid outing would be huge for the program moving forward.
Even if it doesn't translate to a win, competing with the likes of a top five opponent is something to build on, which should be the goal after such a rocky start.