Behind Enemy Lines: Breaking Down LSU with LSU Maven
COLLEGE STATION - Texas A&M is known for winning memorable games during the 2010s. Who could forget their 29-24 victory in Bryant Denny Stadium against No.1 ranked Alabama? Who doesn't remember every Southwest Classic? But most importantly, how can anyone forget last season?
The 2018 Aggies battled then No.8 LSU in a seven overtime battle at Kyle Field to close out the season. Jimbo Fisher ended the bleeding with a two-point conversion to Kendrick Rogers, giving the Aggies a 74-72 victory.
That was a season ago, but also LSU's final loss. The Tigers (11-0, 6-0 SEC) now are one game away from finishing the season with a perfect record. Since the emergence of Joe Burrow, the Tigers offense has become a pinnacle point of College Football, leading the charge in nearly every offensive category.
The question remains if LSU's late-season mishaps of the past will come back to haunt them. Can this A&M (7-4, 4-3 SEC) roster, be the kryptonite to LSU's perfect season?
Aggie Maven reached out to Glen West, Senior Writer for LSU Maven of Sports Illustrated, to help get a clearer picture of Saturday's matchup in Tiger Stadium.
Q: The progression of Burrow is well documented after a mid-level season last year. Would you say the passing game has evolved thanks to passing game coordinator Joe Brady or the growth of the receivers in with the veteran quarterback?
West: I would say it’s a healthy balance of both. When Joe Brady was hired away from the Saints it really was just wait and see mode of just how different this offense could be. His working relationship with offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger I think is what really makes the engine run well because there’s no ego on Ensminger’s side.
Brady and Ensminger have done a phenomenal job of putting Burrow in positions to have success. Brady also works a ton with the receivers, most of which have not just taken one step forward but three or four. Ja’Marr Chase has played himself into a top-20 pick in two years and Terrace Marshall could be right behind him if he continues to add on to his season that was stunted due to a foot injury earlier this year.
Brady and the receivers have combined to put Burrow in a great position and the senior is fully taking advantage.
Q: Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire has been one of the most consistent running backs in the SEC. What have you noticed from him in the second half of the year as he looks for six 100-yard game?
West: His explosiveness and confidence the last six weeks has been the possibly the biggest in-season turnaround I’ve seen from an LSU player the last three years. After three games, the hope was the running game would just be able to compliment the passing game to keep defenses honest.
It has become as important and as featured as the passing game in recent weeks, starting with Edwards-Helaire’s 180-yard, four touchdown performance against Alabama. He’s got another gear nobody expected and has been a bright spot that just keeps on shining.
Q: LSU now is second in the College Football Playoff while Ohio State is now No.1. Taking the coverage out of it, do you agree with the rankings?
West: If you’re going purely on strength of schedule, absolutely not. The Tigers schedule has far and away been the more grueling and impressive considering the team came away 11-0. If you want to throw the eye test, then there’s certainly an argument that Ohio State is more rounded just because of some of the struggles defensively for LSU this year.
My gut feeling is the committee will likely keep the Buckeyes No. 1 if they beat No. 13 Michigan and win their conference championship. That would allow Ohio State to go to the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona against the No. 4 team while LSU and Clemson, both drivable to Atlanta, would get the Peach Bowl.
Q: A&M coach Jimbo Fisher spoke on the growth of potentially three first-round players on defense. We know Kristian Fulton and Grant Delpit are two, but who is the third?
West: I think he may be talking about junior safety JaCoby Stevens, who has been the most solid and improved defensive player on the roster. Stevens, a nickel safety that likes to play close to the ball, has 73 tackles, five sacks, 8.5 tackles for a loss and two interceptions in 2019.
He could also be talking about preseason All-American K’Lavon Chaisson but Chaisson, who has come on of late, didn’t start the season as dominant as most expected. Still think Chaisson will go high in next year’s draft just on potential alone but how he finishes off the season will ultimately dictate what range he falls too.
Q: Devin White is gone, but Jacob Phillips has stepped up. What is about it that transforms him into a heat-seeking missile in the open field?
West: Really there’s two guys. Jacob Phillips and Patrick Queen that have been magnificent at inside linebacker. While Phillips stats are slightly gaudier, 94 tackles with seven for a loss and a sack, it is Queen who has shown to be more like White was last year.
By no means am I saying Queen has the consistency or instincts of White, but he does what White did quite well. Much like the top-five pick last April, Queen is gifted with the ability to play sideline to sideline because of his speed. There have been a few times where he’s chased a running back or receiver out-of-bounds this season with the speed White would.
Where Queen and Phillips both struggle is in pass coverage across the middle of the field. If they’re asked to go one-on-one with speedy slot receivers it’s not a scenario defensive coordinator Dave Aranda wants too often.
Q: Let's get to the big question. Prediction?
West: I have LSU winning this game by three touchdowns. The players and coaching staff are taking last year’s loss to heart and I feel like they’ll be more prepared while also having a few tricks up their sleeves. The offense shouldn’t have too much of a problem putting up points and I don’t think Kellen Mond and the A&M offense will be able to match.
Final: LSU 52, Texas A&M 31