COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Sixth-ranked LSU and No. 20 Texas A&M don’t have a lot in common.
The Tigers (6-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) are known for their tremendous defense and the Aggies (5-1, 2-1) succeed with a prolific offense.
When the two meet on Saturday, they’ll be out to prove they deserve to be talked about among the nation’s best teams despite losses to No. 3 Florida — something they do have in common. The winner will keep pace with No. 1 Alabama and No. 15 Mississippi State in the SEC West.
“When you lose a game close like that it hits you hard and especially it being Florida,” LSU linebacker Kevin Minter said. “I felt like with that it’s made us a lot better as far as preparations. I feel like nobody on this team wants to feel that again. I know I don’t. Hopefully that was a momentum swing for the rest of the season.”
Texas A&M’s three-point loss to Florida came in the Aggies’ opener and they’ve reeled off five straight wins since then thanks in large part to freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel. He is second in the nation in total offense with more than 392 yards a game and the dual-threat player has been responsible for 24 points a game for the Aggies.
“He’s progressing,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “He’s only played six games as a college player. His progression has been steady. On things that we couldn’t get done in the first game, we’ve really made some strides.”
LSU will be the biggest test for Manziel since facing the Gators in his first college game. Coach Les Miles said he is concerned about dealing with Manziel, but he’s also confident in his defense which is allowing just over 219 yards a game — the second fewest in the country.
“Hopefully we can contain, that’s the first piece,” Miles said. “The good thing is that our defense will be one of the fastest he will have seen. Hopefully we will use a style of pressure that’s most effective.”
At times it’s going to be coverage and keeping him in the pocket, and other times, hopefully we can get to him ... it will certainly be a mix of weapons.”
The Tigers are coming off a big 23-21 win over South Carolina, but weren’t thrilled to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns once inside the red zone against the Gamecocks. LSU has come away empty in seven of its 32 trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line this season, and come away with field goals instead of touchdowns 10 times.
“The red zone issues are, simply put, that we have to take care of our responsibilities,” Miles said. “If we do our job, we’ll be fine. We can’t turn the ball over, and we certainly have to execute well. Really, there are a number of pieces there.”
LSU knows that will be even more important this week as they face a team that is averaging 47 points a game.
“Texas A&M wants to put up points, so we have to put up points,” LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger said. “We have to help our defense by controlling the ball and not having turnovers.”
The Aggies are known more for their offense, but they also have a solid group of defenders. Junior end Damontre Moore is tied for the national lead in tackles for losses with 15 and tied for second in sacks with 8 1/2.
“They have not only one, but several really talented pass rushers,” Miles said. “We’re going to be challenged as we have in the past and use our hands, get our sets and be prepared. I think this late in the season, we’re getting more accustomed to that challenge and looking forward to it.”
Texas A&M hasn’t forgotten a comment Miles made in the offseason when asked how newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri would fare in their first season in the SEC.
“I would say, ‘Strap it up,”’ Miles said then. “They’re going to really not enjoy their welcoming to this conference.”
After the close loss to Florida in their only other game this season against a ranked SEC opponent, Texas A&M is eager to make a statement in this one.
“We plan to prove people wrong. During the offseason we decided we were going to work harder to prove people wrong,” Texas A&M offensive lineman Patrick Lewis said. “We came together as a team. We didn’t come to the SEC to just to be a doormat. We want to compete and win championships. We’ve grown up and competed all of our lives. We want to win.”