Since this site has so many fans of the Texas A&M Aggies and the LSU Tigers on it, I figued it’d be fun to have a chat about their upcoming game. To get stuff started, MJ (Aggie fan & alum) and I (LSU fan & alum-not sure if anyone noticed I’m an LSU fan) exchanged 5 questions about the upcoming game. Go beyond the jump to see the discussion and be sure to comment & trash talk (in a Christian charitable way, of course) in the combox!
First up, MJ’s questions to me:
1. The Aggies enter the Cotton Bowl as the hottest Big-12 team, having won six in a row. The LSU defense gave up an average of 21 points to SEC opponents, and an average of 28 points to its last five SEC opponents. The Aggies average 282 passing yards and 32 points a game. How will LSU handle the Aggie offense?
MD: The problems LSU’s defense had were mostly due to its being on the field so often due to the offense’s inability to stay on the field. Eventually they kinda wore down, and it showed towards the end of the season. However, with more than a month of rest that won’t be a problem except within the game itself).
LSU’s strength is against the pass, particularly third and long. The best corner in the country and the #3 overall draft prospect, Patrick Peterson, will shut down whoever he’s covering. Neither Auburn or Arkansas dared to throw his way, and even Bama’s Julio Jones could only get either 53 or 83 yards against him. I imagine that the Aggies will simply avoid him, but Peterson is not a one-man show. The rest of LSU’s secondary is pretty strong, and the pass rush led by Drake Nevis is very good as well. LSU’s weakness is that while they’re fast as heck, they’re a little undersized. Auburn, particularly Cam Newton, pushed us around. Our other issue came with mobile quarterbacks as both Newton & Masoli tore us up.
So LSU’s D would love to get a lead and force the Aggies to the air. Since LSU’s offense doesn’t let that happen too much, they’ll try to stop the run (which they did with much success against Bama’s powerful duo) and get the Aggies into 3rd & long, at which point they’ll bring the house. I expect LSU to have success against the Aggies offense, though much will be decided by whether LSU’s offense can keep the defense from getting worn out.
2. With Wednesday’s firing of RichRod and Jim Harbaugh’s apparent disinterest in the job, Michigan might try its luck again with Les Miles. Will this be a distraction for LSU coaches and/or players?
MD: Les has tried to sway the speculation, and I imagine that considering the way Michigan mishandled the last time they recruited Miles, Michigan will be content to wait till after the Cotton Bowl to make a serious move. It’ll be talked about, but this LSU team has had a lot of other stuff going on this season. The quarterback controversy, people calling for Miles’s job, and the clock-management issues has made this team accustomed to adversity. I don’t think Miles leaving to Michigan will be too much of a distraction-especially considering that it may be a remote possibility. LSU has a huge buyout on Miles’s contract that I don’t know if Michigan is willing to pay, and while Michigan is Miles’s alma mater, LSU is a pretty sweet gig.
3. Arkansas got the nod to go to the Sugar Bowl after beating LSU in the final game of the regular season. The Razorbacks came up short against Ohio State. Which is more exciting from a fan’s standpoint:losing closely in a BCS game to the #6 team in the land, or winning the Cotton Bowl on the home turf of your lower ranked opponent?
MD: Considering the grief I’ve given Jay Anderson for LSU’s victory over Ohio St., I’m very glad my Tigers didn’t lose to the Buckeyes because I would be hearing it today. The exposure & money you get from a BCS game i hard to turn down, but as a fan looking for a game, the Cotton Bowl matchup with the Aggies is much better than playing the Buckeyes. You don’t know how excited LSU fans were last summer when it was thought the SEC would get the Aggies. Because of the connections in the oil industry, LSU fans interact with Aggies fans quite often and playing the Aggies on a yearly basis had the potential to develop into a great rivalry. So it’s a great treat to be able to play them this year, even in their backyard. I’d love to see a Home & Home come out of this.
So I’m more excited about the game than I would have been in the Sugar Bowl. And if you can’t make it to the BCS, the Cotton Bowl is the next best bowl. The tradition is great, and the stadium is excellent (even if unnecessarily so-though LSU will be there against to start next season off against the Oregon Ducks). I think beating the Aggies in the Cotton Bowl is better than losing to the B1G Ten Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl.
4. The last time LSU played in the Cotton Bowl (2002), LSU was defeated by Texas. LSU’s two losses this year came on the road. Do you think LSU is at a disadvantage playing against Texas teams in Dallas?
MD: Well, the Aggies crowd will be noisy, but LSU had a monster road schedule with games at the Swamp, at Auburn, and at Arkansas. LSU managed to pull a comeback win at the Swamp, so LSU can handle a large and excited hostile crowd. So while LSU will have to deal with the crowd noise, LSU’s journeys through the stadiums of the SEC make it as well-equipped as any team to handle it.
5. It’s no secret that the fans were ready at various times during these two past seasons to turn on Les Miles. How important to Miles’ status and reputation at LSU is winning this game after having lost last year’s Capital One Bowl?
MD: The Capital One Bowl loss never annoyed most LSU fans; we were madder at the field than at Miles. Other than that, Miles hasn’t lost a bowl game. What got Miles in trouble were the losses two years in a row to Florida, Alabama, and Ole Miss. Both years, Florida stomped us, then we’d have to see the smug smile of Nick Saban as he pulled out a close one. And then we’d collapse against Ole Miss. This year Miles beat all of those teams. After the Bama win, you could tell the anti-Les crew was if not satiated then quieted. Most fans, while annoyed with the Arkansas loss, are more willing to put up with him at least another year. Many fans are hopeful for next, as we have two QB prospects coming in: a junior college transfer named Mettenberger and Philip Rivers’s little brother.
So this game isn’t a must-win for Miles the way Rich Rod’s bowl was. A loss might put him back on the hot seat, but the most important thing Miles needs to do is to fire offensive coordinator Gary Crowton and hire a talented replacement. Chavis has had the Defense going very well, but Crowton’s offense has wasted a lot of talent in a myriad of confusing schemes & packages. The Cotton Bowl is important to LSU, as you’d always like to get a boost going into what will be a tough season for LSU (Oregon at Jerryworld; Florida, Auburn, and Arkansas at home; road trips to West Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee, Miss. St. and Ole Miss), but it’s not important b/c Miles might lose his job. Now, a loss might convince Miles that Michigan is a better long-term prospect for LSU but we’ll have to see what the Michigan men decide.
MD’s Prediction: LSU 24, Texas A&M 13
Here are MJ’s answers to my questions:
1. Considering the early announcement and the fact that the Cotton Bowl is in Texas, this is almost certainly going to have the feel of an Aggie home game. I’m sure the “12th man” will be loud, but what other gameday traditions and quirks ought LSU fans know about before the game?
MJ: Since it is like a home game for the Aggies, watch for the Party Pass to shake and the Jerry-Tron to sway during the Aggie War Hymn. And I suspect our Yell Leaders will be more modestly dressed than your pompom pushers. And since I doubt Mike will be making the trip, Reveille gets the stadium to herself if she pleases.
2. The Aggies turned the season around based on the strength of their new QB, Ryan Tannehill. What does he bring that Johnson didn’t? And most importantly, how mobile is Tannehill?
MJ: Johnson is a solid quarterback who will impress scouts at the NFL Combine. He is a big, smart, mobile, and talented quarterback, and I suspect some NFL team will take him in the Draft. The problem Johnson ran into this year, I believe, is that he over-thought the position. Coming off a spectacular junior year in which his stats were virtually identical to Texas’ Colt McCoy, I think Johnson felt a lot of pressure not just to repeat that performance, but to exceed it. That may have prompted to him play less instinctively and too intellectually. His indecision and hesitance with the football was evident throughout the first half of this season, which led to a lot of sacks and turnovers. The result was a diminished confidence in himself and from his receivers. What Tannehill brought was a spark to the quarterback position. He’s a natural, makes good, quick decisions, and protects the football (he threw 11 TDs to only 3 INTs in his six games at QB). Tannehill made defenses respect the Aggie passing game, which Johnson just couldn’t do this year, and that opened up the running game for Cyrus Gray, who had over 100 yards rushing in every game in which Tannehill played QB.
As for mobility, Tannehill played wide receiver for the Aggies for a couple seasons before taking over for Johnson–he’s a QB who understands the receiver position. While I think Johnson is the better overall athlete, Tannehill is faster and more mobile, though the the latter hardly runs given his adeptness as a pocket passer.
3. How strong has the play of the Aggie offensive line been? How big are they (I ask b/c LSU has a fast but undersized D Line)?
MJ: The Aggies had a 100+ yard rusher in nine games this season, and gave up an average of only about 1.4 sacks a game with Tannehill at the helm (compare this to Johnson’s 3.6!). It’s pretty safe to say that the Aggie offensive line is efficient in both the running and passing games. The starting Aggies offensive line averages 300 lbs. and 6’4″. Expect the LSU D-line to get manhandled on the run. The speed of the LSU D-line, however, may cause some trouble, so I expect to see some extra blocking by the running backs on some passing plays.
4. When offenses have had success against the Aggies, what have they done?
MJ: The Aggies’ pass defense is average. It doesn’t give up a ton of yardage, but it is vulnerable to the tune of 200-250 yards a game. But occasionally it gives up a lot, like against Missouri (361) and Texas Tech (356). The Aggie run defense is solid and only gives up big yardage when the defense has to respect the pass. But really, Johnson’s turnovers were a big part of the success of some of the opposing offenses, since they were given great field position and often faced a tired defense. This problem has been fixed with Tannehill.
LSU has a anemic passing game (155 yards/game), so I do not expect the Tigers to exploit the weakness of the Aggie defense. I am, however, intrigued by LSU’s running game, which has had a lot of success this year, taking on a good Aggie run defense. I think any success for LSU on the offensive side of the ball will come from the run.
5. How important is this game to the Aggies? Where do you see the Aggies going from here (I’ll smile if you say “the SEC”)?
MJ: This game is extremely important for the Aggies. There were very high expectations set before the season began, and these were almost scaled back after the three game losing streak (Oklahoma State, Arkansas, and Missouri). It looked like we Aggies were going to have to face the grim reality, yet again, that A&M football just isn’t what it used to be. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that a six game win streak to close out the season, a spot at the top of the Big 12 South, and a trip to one of the highest-profile bowl games meets those early expectations. Winning the Cotton Bowl would. If the Aggies can do that, they show not only that they can beat the best of the Big 12 and one of the best of the SEC, but also that they have returned, once more, to a form worthy of the national stage. The game is also important given that it might rekindle the old rivalry between A&M and LSU, who used to play each other regularly. Which leads me to…
…the SEC? Well, it seems that A&M largely controls the fate of the Big 12 after last summer’s conference-shuffling shenanigans. If the Aggies beat LSU in a game this big, it just might expedite a Big 12 exit. I think a move to the SEC would mean more nationally televised games, better recruiting inside and outside of Texas, and a lot more money for the program. Not to mention, A&M would make SEC basketball more legit! (MD note-wait…the SEC plays basketball?)
MJ’s Prediction: Texas A&M 24, LSU 17