Before you sit down and gorge yourself with Thanksgiving food, have a helping of our final Pick 6 of the regular season.
Brent Zwerneman, a Texas A&M beat writer for the Houston Chronicle, graciously answered all our questions about the Aggies, who travel to Baton Rouge to face LSU at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
You can follow Brent on Twitter @BrentZwerneman and read his work here.
1. Texas A&M had its own LSU-esque downward spiral this season, losing three of four in late October-early November after starting 5-0. What caused that to happen, and how have the Aggies rebounded recently?
Frankly, new defensive coordinator John Chavis wasn’t able to perform any miracles with an awful run defense – that’s hard to do with a dearth of talented linebackers – and that caught up to the Aggies when their opposition got a little better.
Also, starting quarterback Kyle Allen hurt his shoulder against Alabama, and wasn’t the same for the rest of that game and against Ole Miss. A&M has won three of its last four games, however, primarily because the competition included South Carolina, Western Carolina and Vanderbilt.
2. That losing skid brewed quite the quarterback controversy between Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray. How did that shake out, and where does the situation stand now?
Kyler Murray simply isn’t ready to be an SEC quarterback, and Kyle Allen is healthy again. Allen is clearly the better quarterback among the two right now, although Murray can scramble for yards when necessary. Allen is the clear-cut starter for LSU, and should be in a bowl game. Murray could have benefited from a redshirt year, but a redshirt year wasn’t part of the recruiting pitch – and the Aggies needed to do whatever they could to land the son of former A&M icon Kevin Murray.
3. While defensive coordinator John Chavis and LSU are still duking it out in court, they’ll finally square off on the field Saturday. How has Chavis fared in his first season in College Station, and how much do you believe this game means to him?
Chavis said he was looking forward to walking into Tiger Stadium “as an Aggie.” It means an awful lot to him, based on how he believed he was treated by LSU athletic director Joe Alleva last year. He’ll certainly have mixed emotions – he recruited most of the LSU defense. The Aggies still have a long way to go on the run defense front, but the fact that they’re 49th in total defense is exceptional considering they finished outside the top 100 in that category the past two years.
4. Based on a cursory glance at the stats, it seems Texas A&M has ditched the running-back-by-committee approach and made Tra Carson the feature back. How has he handled that role, and has it hurt or helped the offense?
Carson is a workhorse, and the Aggies’ offensive MVP. He’s a heavier back, and the Aggies could have benefited from a change-of-pace guy in the backfield. That kind of back, Trey Williams, bypassed on his senior season and is now on the Dallas Cowboys’ roster after going undrafted. The Aggies could have really used Williams this season. That said, Carson is closing in on 1,000 yards rushing, the first time an A&M running back has managed that since 2011 (Cyrus Gray).
5. Freshman Christian Kirk has been one of the SEC’s most explosive players this season. How much of a threat does he pose to an LSU secondary susceptible to coverage busts and special teams that have struggled to cover kicks and punts?
Kirk started spectacularly, but hit a freshman wall midway through the season, and was a little banged up to boot (but then aren’t we all). He’s come on strong again of late, and is an elusive return man, but honestly the improved play of Speedy Noil and Josh Reynolds late in the season has helped ease the burden off of Kirk to continue making big plays. He’s quite capable, though.
6. Though the series has been lopsided since the Aggies joined the SEC back in 2012, do you see this shaping up to be an intense rivalry in the future?
I do. This is the closest thing the Aggies have to a rivalry these days, and doggone they’re going to turn it in to one if it’s the last thing they do (getting the Thanksgiving week slot every year against LSU helped on that front helped). It’s fun that Houston is between the two programs, and will continue to be a recruiting battleground between LSU and A&M. I look forward to another fight for the Sabine Canteen (I’ve been pushing that one from the start, frankly with little luck). Happy Thanksgiving.
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