LSU's Defense Reminds Texas A&M It Isn't Ready to Win SEC Titles Yet

Jim Sullivan@jsully711Featured ColumnistNovember 23, 2013

USA Today

Entering Saturday's matchup against LSU, the Texas A&M offense had been one of the best nationally, ranking third in total offense (578 yards per game), team passing efficiency (180.72) and first downs (291), fifth in third-down conversion percentage (.529) and sixth in passing offense (379.2). 

On top of its statistical prestige, the unit owned rights to multiple streaks, including FBS-bests of 500-yard games (nine) and games reaching 40 or more points (13). However, Death Valley reminded A&M exactly what type of league the Southeastern Conference has built its name on—defense-oriented.

And the Aggies paid for it with a crushing 34-10 defeat, watching helplessly as LSU snapped each of A&M's streaks—including a 10-game road winning stretch—and held the offense to season worsts in yards (299) and points (10). 

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 23:  Quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Texas A&M Aggies is flushed out of the pocket by defensive end Jermauria Rasco #59 of the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on November 23, 2013 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gard
Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel endured his worst performance since last season's 24-19 loss to LSU at Kyle Field, as the quarterback finished with a season-worst 83.2 passer efficiency rating while completing just 16-of-41 passes for 224 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. 

The Aggies' usual offensive rhythm was offset early, as the Tigers were able to hold the unit to a field goal midway into the second quarter. A goal-line stand that resulted in no points also killed any consistency, while the only touchdown came on a fluke as cornerback slipped on Derel Walker's 54-yard TD reception. 

"You have to come out and establish some tempo, and we could never really get it going," Manziel said. "I have to give a lot of credit to them. They came out and mixed a lot of things up and kept us guessing. It really took us awhile to figure it out. They're a very talented defense, regardless of how their season has gone. They came out and played a heck of a game defensively."

Even with LSU's poor defensive performance this season (as compared to previous Tigers squads), the unit continued to apply pressure while also containing Manziel on the ground, ultimately giving up just 54 yards on 12 carries to the quarterback. 

Manziel continued to cite the Aggies' reliance on an offensive rhythm, and because of LSU's size, speed and athleticism, the Tigers were able to disrupt any attempts at sparking a comeback. 

"It's not many times you come into halftime and you look down at the stat sheet and you're 8-of-22," Manziel continued. "With this offense and Spavital and McKinney, for me, a big thing is getting completions early. In some other games, you go 10-for-10 or 7-for-8 and you start completing some high-percentage passes.

That's what we do, and we have to do that to be successful. Having a lot of drops and lot of incomplete passes, both on my part and us as an offense, can't happen for a good outcome."

COLLEGE STATION, TX - OCTOBER 26:  Texas A&M Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin has words for Tramain Jacobs at Kyle Field on October 26, 2013 in College Station, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Following the game, head coach Kevin Sumlin discussed A&M's team concept, and how when the offense fell out of rhythm, its defense was unable to get any breathers. Despite the tough conditions the Aggies were forced to play in—inclement weather and a hostile Death Valley crowd—Sumlin continued to credit LSU and its defensive schemes, noting its ability to knock around his usually potent offense. 

"We weren't able to stay on the field offensively, and because of that, our defense got ground down," Sumlin said. "I felt they did some things to us defensively. We couldn't make enough plays in the game offensively to get in a rhythm of any sort. We have to give them credit for that, and offensively, they stuck to their plan."

Ultimately, LSU proved—just as it did last season—that A&M isn't quite ready for an SEC title run. The Aggies are well on their way behind solid recruiting and a Big 12-style offense, but the defense isn't quite up to the league par. Behind a talented defensive unit itself, though, LSU was able to expose the Aggies' limitations, especially when just a few of their offensive gears weren't clicking. 

Even with a group guided by Manziel and Biletnikoff semifinalist Mike Evans, holes and gaps exist to be exploited. The Tigers were able to find those Saturday night, and A&M paid the price. 

"It's not like LSU played one defense the whole night," Sumlin said. "Sometimes, it's one thing here or there. That's why you have to give them credit. They were mixing up things and playing man-to-man, challenging receivers and there were some calls that could go either way."


*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand