Texas A&M’s defense leads the Southeastern Conference in yardage allowed throwing the football. However, that’s more of a reflection of the fact that they’re also the 14th-best team in the league when it comes to stopping the run. As a result, teams are running the ball nearly 45 times a game versus them, which is five times more per outing than what anyone else faces. It’s also a reflection of the fact that they have met some of the worst passers in the country, including the 131st and 117th-ranked passing offenses the last two weekends (not to mention that they have faced just one quarterback ranked in the top six of the SEC). Finally, A&M’s offense consistently generates 20 to 24 points a contest regardless of the opposition which doesn’t compel opponents to do much more than hand the ball off over and over.
Overall, many bad things occur when you can’t stop the run, and they all happen to the Aggies.
LSU’s offense doesn’t do anything particularly well except avoid mistakes (fourth in the league turnovers), convert third downs (third in the league), and score touchdowns in the red zone (fourth in touchdown percentage at 73%). Those items allow them to get leads early on and keep them going into the fourth quarter, which is why the Tigers are SEC West champions. Conversely, A&M is pretty good at defending most of those things but not before falling behind too far in the first three periods and being unable to make up ground in the last one.
Here are the Aggies’ Southeastern Conference rankings on defense in SEC play.
7th in scoring defense at 29 points per game
14th in rushing defense at 250 yards per game
10th in pass efficiency defense at 143 overall
9th in total defense at 418 yards per game
Here’s LSU’s Southeastern Conference rankings in SEC play.
7th in scoring offense at 29 points per game
7th in rushing offense at 180 yards per game
7th in passing efficiency at 141 overall
7th in total offense at 389 yards per game
1. A&M has varied between three and four-man fronts this season, especially as defensive coordinator DJ Durkin brought over the 3-2-6 look from Ole Miss with him. They’re young in spots and don’t play fundamentally sound football ranging from shedding blocks to keeping an outside arm free to contain the edge. In addition, the need to protect the backers means that A&M’s defensive linemen don’t get upfield and make negative plays, they don’t get enough guys in the box to do so either, or they get too many defensive backs on the field.
If you’re wondering if this sounds familiar, it’s the same thing I typed before the Aggies’ last two SEC games. Rinse, wash, repeat.
2. LSU runs the spread, but it is a different animal than the one heavily influenced by what Joe Brady brought with him from the Saints in 2019 (which they ran last season as well). Their tight end is more of a blocker than a big slot, as he was in the other offense. This team is also into RPOs but they run their quarterback far more, especially on designed runs. They get the ball out in a hurry, mainly because they start two redshirt freshmen at offensive tackle, but its helps to have a quarterback with Jayden Daniel‘s mobility who makes the entire much more productive than the sum of its parts suggests that it should be.
3. It can be argued that no player in the SEC has been more critical to his team than Daniels. Despite a thinner physique, he has held running the ball 15 times a game because he knows how to get into space and avoid contact. He’s got great vision, enabling him to take off when plays break down and make something out of nothing. Daniels doesn’t take chances with the ball in the passing game. Moreover, there’s no one better in end-of-game situations when he has to make a play….he’s a 70% passer with five touchdown throws and has generated 11 first downs on 30 rushes in the fourth quarter.
4. LSU starts two freshmen in its offensive line and they’ve survived doing that via Daniels’ legs and the fact that LSU uses RPOs and quick throws so they don’t have to hold their blocks as long. Left tackle Will Campbell is a former five-star with a lot of lengths who keeps his feet moving, enabling him to finish blocks better than you would imagine at first glance. Right tackle Emery Jones has perfect size and leans on people more than you would expect from a youngster. However, he also also struggles with athletic rushers off of the edge and people with more length who can leverage him (27 pressures allowed). Getting guard Garrett Dellinger back helps out on the inside in pass protection.
Overall, they have a lot of size and use it to lean on you in the zone run game so that the backs and Daniels can pick out holes and go. However, they may struggle to deal with A&M’s crowd noise and for the most part haven’t played nearly as well away from Baton Rouge as at home.
5. A&M’s McKinnley Jackson can attack shoulders and redirect things in the backfield and so has seven tackles for loss in the second half of the season since he has been back from injury. However, their style means that they attack blockers head up, which makes it difficult for them to shed and they’re young as a group so they’re not consistently sound from a technical standpoint. As a result, they struggle to protect the backers (when the backers themselves aren’t having issues) and don’t generate much pass rush (18 sacks in 11 games). A&M’s ends have the athleticism to give LSU’s young tackles fits, but they’re young.
6. A&M’s Edgerrin Cooper is the best of the group at maintaining his run fits, scrapes over the top of the defensive linemen, and doesn’t over-pursue. He can run with backs and flip his hips ins coverage. The Aggies have also had success using Martrell Harris as one edge rusher as he has really good burst and gets into or past offensive linemen before they can get set.
The rest of the unit struggles in some measure in all of these categories and they’re going to need to be disciplined playing against Daniels as will A&M’s front four.
7. LSU’s running game revolves around Daniels moreso than the backs. Josh Williams missed the UAB game but is a former walk on who grinds things out, picks up people in pass pro, and doesn’t turn the ball over. Noah Cain got more carries in his stead last weekend and is a good athlete with size who is physical but lacks vision. John Emery is a former five star who has had a very up and down career but runs hard.
8. A&M’s secondary has struggled in league play with misdirection and motion regarding their run fits versus Ole Miss, Florida, and Auburn. The return of nickel Antonio Johnson made them better at the line of scrimmage due to his length but their play as alley and B gap players as been an issue (their missed tackle rate is generally in the 20% range among everyone other than Johnson).
From a coverage standpoint, they’ve had issues this season with communicating switches but they haven’t always faced quarterbacks who could take advantage of those problems. That will probably be a different story this week facing Daniels. In addition, they have issues playing the man and not the ball, leading to crucial penalties as pass defenders.
9. Kayshon Boutte is the first name that people think of when it comes to their receiving corps but he’s had quite a few drops this season (seven) and hasn’t been the explosive player (just 4.1 yards after the catch) that he was thought to be coming into 2022. Malik Nabers lines up both inside and outside and is the most consistent route runner and pass catcher in terms of his hands. Jaray Jenkins and Brian Thomas have length and are the deep threats but they don’t get the ball that often. Frosh tight Mason Taylor is big, runs decent routes, and catches everything near him. He has quietly had a nice year as a true freshman.
10. Daniels had the flu against Arkansas two weeks ago, so the Tigers took the ball out of his hands for the most part. As a result, they scored 13 points and he had under 100 yards of total offense. He’s back from a health standpoint as evidenced by the 41 points they put up last week.
A&M has played much of its 3-2-6 scheme versus RPO-heavy teams like LSU to provide overhang defenders on edge. They’ll need to be able to stay in their rush lanes versus Daniels or else they’ll struggle as they have versus other mobile quarterbacks this season like (they’ve allowed 220 yards rushing to quarterbacks in their past three SEC outings).
The trick will be for the Aggies to make LSU chase them going into the fourth quarter so they can stress those two young tackles in pass protection. If they can’t, then their record (0-5 this year when trailing going into the final stanza) suggests that they will find it difficult to overcome a deficit.