This is how the circle comes round.
The last time LSU faced Texas A&M in Tiger Stadium two years ago, it was amidst the swell of expectations that it would be Les Miles’ last game as the Tigers’ coach. LSU players repurposed some of their emotions for their coach and fed them into a 19-7 victory over the Aggies. When it was done, they carried Miles from the field.
It turned out it wasn’t Miles’ time to meet his final fate as LSU’s coach. Miles got a reprieve that chilly November night, whether it was because the Tigers won or because the prospect of paying him an enormous buyout seemed like a big political fumble for the LSU administration. It wouldn’t last, of course, as Miles, unable or unwilling to modernize his team’s offense, was out on his ear after a 2-2 start last season after professing the offensive engine of his team was “pretty stinking strong.”
Now, it’s Kevin Sumlin, who appears to be walking the plank right into denial, professing earlier this week he expects to be coaching at Texas A&M come 2018. Reports out of the Lone Star State are that Sumlin’s star has already winked out and he will be dismissed after the LSU game faster than you can say Jimbo Fisher — or the name of whichever coach agrees to take the platinum-plated job.
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Maybe it’s well that A&M’s LSU- and Catholic High-educated athletic director Scott Woodward has returned home for this game in Baton Rouge. That’s probably where he keeps the family ejector seat, in a storage facility off Perkins Road.
Gig 'em? How about, “Pull!”
Does Sumlin get carried off the field by his Aggies players after this one? It would be a remarkably resonant moment, and yet another reminder of how volatile this college coaching business has become. Since last LSU and Texas A&M met in Tiger Stadium, half the SEC programs, including LSU, have hired or are searching for new coaches.
Millions and millions and millions of dollars of coaches salaries and facility investments, plus now the looming start of the new early national signing period on Dec. 20, has made athletic directors across the country itchy to push the button. Texas A&M has poured close to half a billion dollars — yes, billion with a "B" — into Kyle Field and its supporting athletic facilities during the Sumlin era. Apparently three straight 8-5 seasons, with the prospect of no better than an 8-4 record season should the Aggies upset LSU, isn’t considered enough of a return on deep-pocketed A&M’s investment.
Texas A&M’s reported pursuit of Fisher, who was THE name at LSU when things got hot for Miles in 2015 and after he was fired in 2016, has to be a disquieting prospect on North Stadium Drive. Not only would you have to figure Fisher, if lured away from Florida State, would have some greater measure of success against the Tigers than Sumlin — he’s 0-5 — but some important people close to the program may be pointedly asking athletic director Joe Alleva why Woodward could hook Fisher when he couldn’t.
All that is speculation, of course, predicated on whether Fisher would want to leave Tallahassee (indications from reports late this week were that, once again, FSU is going to fight to keep their coach, despite the Seminoles’ current 4-6 record).
Who the coach is at Texas A&M next season and beyond is, from an LSU perspective, a worry for another day. The more pressing issue at hand is, will the Aggies, already a solid 7-4 team with an offense always a play away from exploding and a defense that loves stuffing quarterbacks into sacks, be distracted by all this Sumlin smoke or be emboldened by it?
Ed Orgeron, who in 2015 experienced the Miles drama firsthand during his first year as LSU’s defensive line coach, said such factors can impact the game, but only to a point.
“I think that there's a factor there,” Orgeron said at his Monday news conference. “But after the first play, that all goes away. It's about alignment, technique and execution. Just the emotion won't get it. Now, emotion with all that, with execution, will get it.”
Speaking of execution, LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda wasn’t happy with how his unit finished what turned out to be a 54-39 victory over the Aggies this past Thanksgiving in College Station. He doesn’t quite have the defensive horses he had a year ago, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been losing sleep scheming for the Aggies. Orgeron said Monday that Aranda’s truck hadn’t left the LSU compound since the team got back from its 30-10 victory this past Saturday at Tennessee.
“He knows how good they are,” Coach O said of Aranda. “He knows where their strengths are. And he's going to do a good job this week of defending them.”
Especially if the Aggies happen to be just a little more keyed up because of the boiling water surrounding their coach.