It’s Rivalry Week, and SEC teams are bracing for what many consider to be their biggest games of the regular season whether or not they’re in the College Football Playoff picture.
Of the nine games involving SEC teams this week, five are intraconference showdowns.
Among them is Texas A&M paying a visit to LSU. Both of these teams have squandered their chances at cracking the College Football Playoff, but there is some serious history and major intrigue as they square off.
Though they’re a 5.5-point underdog, here’s why the Aggies could pull off the upset:
One of the main reasons for LSU falling off a cliff in the tail end of the season is the dissipating production on the offensive side of the ball. Three straight losses have coincided with LSU’s two lowest yardage totals of the season (182 at Alabama, 330 vs. Arkansas).
And it doesn’t get easier as the Tigers prepare to face a familiar nemesis Saturday.
Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis spent six seasons coaching under Les Miles at LSU, winning the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant in 2011.
Chavis has a large degree of familiarity with the LSU offense — including quarterback Brandon Harris and running back Leonard Fournette — because of his history watching them during practice.
Out to prove that LSU was better off with him, Chavis could dial up some exotic schemes to try to help the offense continue to sputter.
A&M knows how to put on the pressure
The Texas A&M defense’s confidence should be at an all-time high coming off a 25-0 shutout of Vanderbilt. The dominant performance was the program’s first shutout since 2004 and the first against a conference opponent since 2002. A&M allowed a season-low 148 yards of offense, including only 23 yards passing.
But the Aggies defense has quietly been on a roll the last two months.
In the past six games, A&M’s defensive front has terrorized offensive lines by racking up 13 sacks and 55 tackles for loss.
Overall, the Aggies are tied for third in the nation with 97 tackles for loss and are tied for 13th with 32 sacks. Responsible for this havoc are defensive ends Myles Garrett, who leads the SEC with 10.5 sacks and has 17 tackles for loss, and Daeshon Hall, who has seven sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss.
Garrett, Hall and the rest of the A&M defensive front have a chance to feast on an LSU line that has surrendered eight sacks during its three-game losing skid. That includes five allowed to Arkansas at home.
Can LSU drown out the noise?
Saturday may be the final game for Miles as LSU’s coach. The team’s recent woes have left the alumni base contemplating a $15 million buyout to send the second-winningest coach in school history packing.
Speculation that Miles could lose his job began last weekend. Some reports indicated he could be fired if the team lost to Ole Miss, and it did. But Miles is preparing for another game as LSU’s coach against Texas A&M.
Indubitably, Miles is sitting on a very hot seat these days, and it probably doesn’t help that he’s receiving endless questioning about his job security instead of Saturday’s game.
Of course, Miles isn’t the only person subject to these rumors.
Both players and coaches are trying to decipher the rumors, which inevitably could take their attention away from the task at hand. At the same time, it’ll be an emotional atmosphere at Tiger Stadium on Saturday with what should be a raucous crowd that could either show support for Miles or turn its shoulders on him.
That mixed bag of emotions and the uncertainty surrounding LSU’s coach is certainly a distraction that places added pressure on a team in the midst of a losing streak. They’ll also have to contend with a very focused, hungry A&M squad that boasts not only Chavis, but a lot of key players with ties to Louisiana.