The moment of truth for Texas A&M lies ahead at 11am on Kyle Field. After the fourth quarter comebacks, shootouts that last into the wee hours of the morning and Heisman chatter, the Aggies square off against the LSU Tigers in a match-up that can excel the maroon and white to heights they have yet to experience maybe ever. A victory against the national championship hopefuls would: A) Put A&M in serious discussion for a SEC championship. B) Put Johnny Manziel on track to become the first ever freshmen Heisman Trophy winner. And most importantly, C) Put A&M in a spotlight they never reached in their previous conference, the Big XII.
Truly, an opportunity to shock the country stands in the balance for the Ags. Many believed—especially Big XII schools--it would be years before the Aggies would even be competitive in the SEC. In fact, LSU Head Coach Les Miles stated before the season, “They’re going to really not enjoy their welcoming to this conference.” When Florida came to town, the question for A&M would be if they could compete against SEC-caliber rosters. The answer? A resounding, Yes. They’ve answered that question quite clearly after rolling off five victories in a row, the most recent being a 59-57 air raid against Louisiana Tech. Now the question has changed from “Can they compete with the elite?” to “Can they win against the elite?”
The Aggies faced the same question the last time they faced LSU back in 2011 at the Cotton Bowl. After beating two top-10 schools, A&M faced an elite LSU squad. The result? A 41-24 pounding where the Tigers wore out the Ags with two 100-yard rushers. A&M faced the question the following year when Oklahoma State visited Kyle. The result? Well…we all know how that year ended.
Nevertheless, an historic step in the football program can be made Saturday. For such to happen, here are the key storylines.
3. Will the secondary bounce back?
While LSU lives and dies by their running game, it would not be a surprise if Les Miles took a few shots downfield with Zach Mettenberger against the Aggie defensive backs that were extremely exposed against Louisiana Tech. If you recall from the last game these two teams competed against one another, Jordan Jefferson was also a struggling passer with a big arm. Jefferson ended up having one of the best games of his career, throwing three touchdowns against a Von Miller-led Aggie defense.
A&M does welcome back Steven Jenkins and Howard Matthews from suspensions, and Deshazor Everett will be back after sitting last week with from injury. LSU undoubtedly will use their run game to wear down the Aggie front seven, but when the Tigers go to play action or go for the big play, will the secondary be able to step up?
2. A lot to gain, Nothing to Lose
As far as stakes are concerned, much more pressure lies on the shoulders of LSU. At #6 in the BCS standings with all undefeated teams in front of them, the Tigers must be perfect for the rest of the season if they hope to play for a national championship.
With A&M, when the season first began, many outside of the maroon and white locker room marked this game as an automatic “L” along with the Ags future date with Alabama. People also predicted the Aggies would struggle just to make a bowl game as well. I think one of Texas A&M’s main themes thus far this year has been defying expectations. Now Saturday has changed from certain beat down to potential program changer.
For LSU, it’s national championship or bust. For A&M, even a “quality loss”—if such a thing exists—can still have analysts saying that A&M is here to stay in the SEC. With the lack of pressure, and the comforting sound of the 12th Man, the Tigers will certainly have their hands full.
1.You guessed it. Johnny Football.
Remember back in the day when Coach Sumlin’s choice of Johnny Manziel over Jameill Showers was considered risky and controversial? Yeah, me neither. If Manziel were to retire today to become a professional cat rescuer, in just six games he has already become one of the most exciting and unforgettable athletes Texas A&M has ever had in its history.
The last time he stood on Kyle Field, he broke the SEC record for total offense in the game. In the two weeks he’s been gone from the 12th man, he’s already broken the same record once more. In back-to-back weeks, he’s led two game winning 4th quarter drives in high-pressure situations. Against Ole Miss, he faced a 3rd and long from his own two-yard-line. Against Ole Miss, he started a drive from his own goal line. Both were in the 4th quarter and both resulted in touchdowns. As only a freshman, Johnny Football has already shown that no moment is too big for him. But no moment is bigger than the one he faces this Saturday.
In a new college age where video game-like stats are no longer out of the ordinary, defenses such as LSU and Alabama remind us of the age-old mantra, “Defense wins championship.” Manziel faced something similar against the Florida Gators. Though he held his own, Florida made first downs a near impossibility in the second half and survived their trip to Kyle Field. But LSU will not face the same Johnny Manziel Florida did.
The stakes for Manziel almost mirror the stakes for Texas A&M as a whole. No matter what the result may be, they’ve already far exceeded everyone’s expectations. If that result happens to be a victory? Well…then the conversation changes entirely.