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November 23, 2013

Tarp's Postgame Thoughts

Offense:

Texas A&M had averaged 50 points a game coming into today and after the Aggies rang up 42 earlier in the year versus Alabama it was hard to imagine anyone shutting them down. This was especially true concerning a LSU defense that had so many issues in the secondary and had been inconsistent rushing the passer and stopping the run.

However, as the season had gone on, A&M's offense had become increasingly dependent on Johnny Manziel's arm in SEC play to the detriment of other aspects of the unit. The running game had deteriorated as the offensive line became less physical as a unit and was unable to get push. In addition, A&M threw the ball down the field successfully and while they were putting up impressive numbers, they were struggling in red zone situations with turnovers once the field became compressed.

Today, LSU's defense took advantage of those issues and basically shut down A&M's offense much like they did last year even though the personnel had changed. They did it in a different way, however. In 2012, defensive coordinator John Chavis had used a three man front with speedy defensive ends to contain Manziel and cut down on his ability to move and throw. This year, Chavis went primarily with a four man front and five and six defensive backs in man coverage. The Tigers would use one two high safeties to keep everything in front of the deep defenders but young corners like Rashard Robinson simply lined up in press coverage and simply got physical with Aggie receivers up and down the down the field. With the safeties playing deep there wasn't much open down the field that A&M could take advantage and those defensive backs didn't give up much on the intermediate routes as well.

Because the Aggies had gotten where they held the ball and tried to hit those downfield routes, LSU's ability to shut that aspect of the A&M offense down meant that the offense was shut down as well. There were a couple of ways around that. One was to run the ball against a front that was oriented toward pressuring the quarterback and back seven defenders looking for the pass, to get them looking for the run so that it might set up play action or turn them and leave the linebackers at the mercy of offensive linemen bigger than them. However, A&M running backs touched the ball just six times and when they did there wasn't much running room…21 yards in total. Manziel did run 12 times but as last year LSU's speed kept him from breaking anything long and he rarely ran early when he was pressured so that the field never opened up.

Second, A&M has gotten away from hitting the shorter to intermediate routes in the Air Raid and in holding the ball. When the Aggies did try to hit those routes, they had some success and had two of their better drives of the day. The touchdown drive before the half was jump started by Manziel hitting shallow cross to Quiv Gonzalez in space who turned up the field, got a couple of blocks, and gained 22 yards. Manziel then hit Derel Walker on the next play for 51 yards and a touchdown to give A&M a semblance of hope going into the locker room.

However, most of the time, A&M was locked into throwing those downfield routes and Mike Evans was targeted a number of times on the right side, even when the ball wason the right hash. Although Manziel averaged 14 yards a completion, he averaged just under six yards an attempt and hit only about 40% of his passes. Evans had one 38 yard reception but dropped a pass or two and he and Manziel had a miscommunication on a route that resulted in an interception. Walker had a great day with six catches for 130 yards but also dropped a pass in the end zone on a third and goal that resulted in A&M going for it and failing on fourth down and had another drop as well.

We thought that red zone turnovers would be the difference in the game but the Aggies only got into the red zone a couple of times. One of them did result in an interception but A&M also missed on a fourth down opportunity in the red zone. LSU's defense was just so good that A&M never even got into the red zone unlike in past games so that it was a factor.

Defense

If I had told you before the game that A&M would hold LSU to 34 points, you probably would have assumed that the Aggies would find a way to score at least 40 points and win.

Even so, the defensive performance was above average in comparison to the rest of the season only in terms of points allowed. The Aggies gave up 5.9 yards a rush and over 300 yards rushing. LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger only threw 20 times but he was never sacked as A&M's lack of a pass rush (even when they blitzed) and good protection from his offensive line enabled him to throw just about any route he wanted. In all, A&M gave up over 500 yards once again.

The Aggie actually held LSU on its first two possessions, once forcing them to punt and another time stuffing a quarterback sneak on fourth down in LSU territory. The latter gave the Aggies a golden opportunity to get a leg up on a Tiger team perhaps still down after a loss to Alabama two weeks ago. However, LSU's defense in turn held A&M on fourth down on the subsequent series and all of the issues that we've witnessed this year….not big enough, not fast enough, and inability to carry out their assignments… popped up after that.

Backup tailback Terrence Magee broke a 65 yard run on the Tigers' third possession when both tackles were blocked, the middle linebacker was faced with the center, and the other inside linebacker overran the gap. After an A&M punt, LSU went back to a play the Aggies had significant issues with against Arkansas, a 36 yard throw to the tight end going up field after coming across the formation on a drag route after play action where the linebackers just bit on the play fake and let them go. Other than those two plays, AM's defense gave up just 65 yards on their first 20 plays. However, it's those types of mistakes…multiple ones on the same play…as to why A&M has given up the big play all year even when the ball isn't thrown down the field.

Two drives later, A&M had LSU in a real hole…they had just kicked a field goal to cut the lead to 14 to 3 and the Tigers faced a third and 16 from their own three yard line going into the wind. A&M blitzed but the blitzers either took the wrong angles or just found blockers. Mettenberger got protection, threw the ball on a deep comeback route to Odell Beckham who was given too much cushion, and then got the corner miss the tackle for the first down yardage. A few plays later, LSU broke out the wheel route to Jarvis Landry who was lined up in the slot. The corner on him didn't bump him and let him go up the sidelines while Beckham went to the inside. Ether the Aggies were in zone and the safety couldn't get over due to the lack of the bump or the corner didn't realize A&M was in man coverage; either way, Landry was wide open and Mettenberger hit him for a 40 yard touchdown.

The Tigers had success running up the middle in the first half; in the second half they ran a little more outside but didn't throw the ball with a lead. When they faced third and longs, they blocked A&M's blitzes and Mettenberger did what he had been doing all year which was step up in the pocket and deliver the football down the field with authority. A&M's linebackers overpursued plays and most of the time faced blockers because they defensive linemen couldn't command double teams. The Aggies rarely got any penetration after the first couple of possessions and didn't make any plays in LSU's backfield. In addition, the linebackers and linemen (which at times included multiple freshmen) simply weren't a match for the Tigers' bigger front.

The most disheartening aspect of the game from a fan's standpoint was that LSU had been converting third downs at a rate of 57% coming into the game. They actually bettered that at 65% today even though they had 13 penalties for 111 yards and because of that found themselves in several third and long situations which was more than A&M could have hoped for. The Aggies simply couldn't get to Mettenberger, missed coverages, and played too far off receivers to allow them to make key catches which allowed the Tigers to convert those third downs and hold the ball for a whopping 40 minutes of the game.

Summary

We had seen today's performance coming on the offensive side of the ball to an extent. A&M was relying so much on Number Two that they were turning the ball over but even so were still scoring lots of points, even against decent defenses. Today, against an defense with good to great athletes that understood what A&M was attempting to accomplish and could outscheme and outathlete A&M, they were shut down and held under 300 yards. LSU's young secondary, particularly Robinson, did a great job and except for a couple of busted coverages kept A&M from getting the ball downfield and sustaining drives. They also exploited every weakness on defense that A&M displayed during the season.

But most of all, the Aggies were simply outmuscled today by an opponent that did the same thing to them last season. Part of that is attributable to a lack of size and experience at certain positions relative to LSU but it's also because the Tigers pride themselves on being a physical program regardless of whether you are a lineman or a skill position player. On a day when A&M's slim BCS chances and Johnny Manziel's Heisman Trophy chances both went out the window, the Aggies need to understand that they have to become as physical as LSU…no matter what that takes via scheme or recruiting…if they are to beat the Tigers and other programs like them and win a SEC title.


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