The Next Level
Defensive back Dwayne Thomas was where you might think a middle linebacker would be: in the middle of the field, about 3 to 5 yards from the football.
At the snap, Thomas rushed toward the center, jetting into the backfield and pummeling Florida quarterback Austin Appleby for a rare DB sack.
LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is slowly showing new blitz packages, formations and schemes. The aforementioned play — six defensive backs were on the field, with Thomas rushing — is one LSU fans might remember from the John Chavis era. It’s essentially the Mustang package: the six-DB, pass-rushing scheme Chavis made popular during his six seasons in Baton Rouge.
Coincidentally, LSU now heads to College Station for Thursday’s game with Texas A&M having flashed a scheme that Chavis, now the Aggies' defensive coordinator, used so much with the Tigers.
Like he did under Chavis, Thomas was Aranda’s blitzer in a six-defensive back formation. Aranda and the Tigers rarely used six defensive backs through the season's first nine games, but they showed the scheme against Florida on at least four plays.
They used Ed Paris as the nickelback and moved Thomas to his linebacker-esque spot. Jamal Adams and John Battle were the safeties, and Donte Jackson and Tre’Davious White covered the outside as cornerbacks.
On this play, LSU’s linebackers — Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley — began the play at the line of scrimmage but backed off in coverage at the snap. Aranda removed nose tackle Greg Gilmore, leaving outside linebacker Arden Key to rush with defensive ends Lewis Neal and Davon Godchaux.
The plays produced at least three pressures and that sack from Thomas. Expect to see it a lot against an A&M team that loves using four- and five-receiver sets.
Matchups worth watching
Texas A&M defensive Myles Garrett vs. LSU's tight ends and left tackle
Garrett is projected as the top pick in the 2017 NFL draft. LSU tackles K.J. Malone, Maea Teuhema and Toby Weathersby and tight ends Colin Jeter and Foster Moreau will be in charge of slowing this 6-foot-5, 270-pound speedster who’s coming off a 4½-sack game. A&M moves around Garrett, so the interior of LSU’s line might see him too.
LSU's secondary vs. Texas A&M's receivers
In the teams' past four meetings, the Tigers have slowed A&M’s passing game like no other team. LSU’s defense is built to shut down pass-crazed spread offenses, like those at A&M and Ole Miss. The sheer amount of talent in the LSU secondary is how that can happen. In the past four meetings, A&M is averaging 13.3 points and 296.8 yards per game.
Keep an eye on LSU's No. 48, Donnie Alexander
Alexander, a junior linebacker, is set to get his second career start with Kendell Beckwith out. He’s spent the first three seasons as a role player on defense and a special teams guy. He gets his shot to start in an SEC game on the road. How will he respond?
Keep an eye on Texas A&M's No. 3, Christian Kirk
The SEC Freshman of the Year last season leads the Aggies in catches (69) and is second in receiving yards (735). He’s averaging six catches per game and appears to be A&M’s best possession receiver, averaging 10 yards per catch.
Scott Rabalais' Four Downs
1. KEEP AWAY
Turnovers have haunted LSU for much of 2016, no more so than the three critical fumbles that led to the loss to Florida. Texas A&M excels at turning teams over — 24 in all, ranking third in the SEC with a plus-6 margin. If the Tigers are on the negative end of this stat, they’ll be on the negative end of the score.
2. END TO END
LSU defensive end Arden Key is tied for first in the SEC with 1.0 sacks per game, 10 in all, but Texas A&M counters with a frightening pair of ends in Myles Garrett (8.5 sacks) and Daeshon Hall (3.5). The Tigers have been vulnerable to the edge pass rush and need to have a good accounting of Messrs. Garrett and Hall.
3. FIRST AID
Not surprisingly for two teams playing on four days' rest, the Tigers and Aggies are dealing with key injuries. Texas A&M quarterback Jake Hubenak has an injured throwing shoulder, though there’s a chance starter Trevor Knight (non-throwing shoulder) could return. LSU will be without middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith (knee), and running back Leonard Fournette (ankle) is iffy. Compensating for those injuries will be critical.
4. RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP
The Aggies lack the physicality to be more than mediocre against the run (179.7 yard per game, eighth in SEC). If Fournette is out or ineffective, Derrius Guice has to carry the load. He needs to make up for his mistakes against Florida, concentrate and hit the right holes. To win, the Tigers have to wear out the Aggies with their ground game.
Numbers worth knowing
LSU's record against Texas A&M since the Aggies joined the SEC
Sacks by LSU’s Arden Key this season
LSU’s record after a loss since 2005
Yards Derrius Guice needs for a 1,000-yard rushing season
LSU’s Week 13 bowl projections
Bill Bender, The Sporting News
Liberty vs. Baylor
Outback vs. Nebraska
Citrus vs. Nebraska
Brad Crawford, 24/7 Sports
Outback vs. Nebraska
Bryan Fischer, NBCSports.com
Liberty vs. Kansas State
Jason Kirk, SBNation.com
TaxSlayer vs. Virginia Tech
Jerry Palm, CBSSports.com
Liberty vs. Baylor
Brant Parsons, Orlando Sentinel
Outback vs. Penn State
Alex Shirkey, SECCountry.com
Citrus vs. Florida State
Dec. 30, Memphis, Tennessee
Dec. 31, Orlando, Florida
Dec. 31, Jacksonville, Florida
Jan. 2, Tampa, Florida
Five memorable games: LSU vs. Texas A&M
Now positioned at the end of the regular season, the LSU-Texas A&M game is poised to continue to grow as a rivalry. Here are five memorable games from this border rivalry that began in 1899:
Jan. 1, 1944: LSU 19, Texas A&M 14
The Tigers travel to Miami for this Orange Bowl meeting with the Aggies by train and in cars with wartime fuel stamps saved up by LSU fans. They return home in 18 used cars purchased by a booster. In between, Steve Van Buren runs for two scores and throws for another in the Tigers’ first bowl win in four tries.
Sept. 19, 1970: Texas A&M 20, LSU 18
The Tigers lead 18-13 with less than a minute left. On third down, Aggies quarterback Lex James launches an 89-yard touchdown pass to Hugh McElroy, who scores with 13 seconds left. The Tigers recover to go 9-3, win the SEC championship and come within a score of upsetting eventual co-national champion Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
Sept. 2, 1989: Texas A&M 28, LSU 16
An LSU team ranked No. 7 and expected to contend for the national title sees its hopes evaporate in the time it takes the Aggies’ Larry Horton to return the season-opening kickoff 92 yards for a score. The play is a portent of a dark age to come: LSU finished 4-7, the first of six straight losing seasons.
Jan. 7, 2011: LSU 41, Texas A&M 24
A crowd of 83,514 packs Cowboys (now AT&T) Stadium for this Cotton Bowl showdown, the first game between the Tigers and Aggies since 1995. LSU claws out of an early 10-0 hole with 288 yards rushing and three Jordan Jefferson-to-Terrence Toliver touchdown passes to finish 11-2 and No. 7 in the polls.
Oct. 20, 2012: LSU 24, Texas A&M 19
Johnny Manziel runs wild against LSU for a half, but the Tigers gradually corral the eventual Heisman Trophy winner, forcing him into three interceptions as the Tigers rally from a 12-0 deficit. Jeremy Hill rushes for 127 yards, including the game-winning 47-yard touchdown run with 3:12 left.