On paper, No. 6 LSU’s game against Texas A&M should be an easy win.
But Tigers’ coach Brian Kelly knows better than to underestimate the Aggies despite their struggles this season.
“This is as arguably as talented as a football team as we’ll see all year,” Kelly said. “They’re young in some areas, but it doesn’t take away from the talent that they have on the field… against LSU, their rival, they’ll play their absolute best against us. … They don’t have the wins that they wanted, but all they need (now) is one, and that’s to beat LSU.”
The talent that had the people expecting Texas A&M to compete for the SEC West title this season hasn’t panned out. The Aggies (4-7, 1-6 SEC) won’t qualify for a bowl game for the first time since going 4-8 in 2008.
The Tigers (9-2, 6-1, No. 5 CFP), winners of five straight, have already secured a spot in the SEC title game against top-ranked Georgia but must take care of business against lowly Texas A&M to have any chance of making the College Football Playoff. The Aggies snapped a six-game skid with a sloppy win over UMass last week and hope to build on that victory Saturday as they wrap up this disappointing season.
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher is trying to keep emotions out of things this week and is imploring his team to do all it can to cap the season on a positive note.
“I think it’s huge for the future of what we have here, which we think is extremely bright,” he said. “It would be great for those seniors and a great message for those young players going into this offseason.”
Texas A&M offensive linemen Layden Robinson has taken the message from Fisher to heart and expects the Aggies to play well in their finale.
“The mindset is to finish — finish strong,” he said. “I feel like this team will have a great game on Saturday... We are playing a great LSU team, but they are going to get the best from us as well.”
A victory would give LSU its first 10-win year since going 15-0 in its national championship season in 2019. But Kelly has his sights set on bigger goals than simply reaching the double-digit win mark.
“I don’t think they give you any ticker-tape parades or anything, but 10 wins is certainly a benchmark when people look back on seasons,” he said. “You know, I think it does a lot in terms of solidifying your postseason opportunities"
LSU running back Noah Cain, a Penn State transfer lured back to his native state by Kelly, had one of his busiest and best games of his first season with the Tigers last weekend and could be relied upon again this week.
His 13 carries against UAB were a season high and his 76 yards rushing were highlighted by three short touchdown runs. He now leads LSU running backs in TDs rushing with seven.
LSU is banged up at the running back position. Armoni Goodwin is out for the season. Josh Williams couldn’t play last week because of a knee injury and his readiness for the Aggies remains to be seen. So if LSU has to rely on Cain, Kelly is OK with it.
“He is not flashy. I don’t think he is going to be a guy that makes a ton of people miss, but does he really have to?” Kelly said. “He plays with low pads. He is physical. He is smart. He catches the ball coming out of the back field. He is reliable in pass protection, and he is tough to bring down. I mean, I just think I mentioned four or five things that are pretty good to have.”
Texas A&M’s offense was missing its best two players in Saturday’s 20-3 win over UMass with leading rusher Devon Achane and top receiver Evan Stewart out with injuries.
Fisher said this week that he’s “very optimistic” that the pair can return against the Tigers.
Achane has missed two games with a foot injury and Stewart sat out last week after taking a hit to the head two weeks ago against Auburn.
Achane has 887 yards rushing and his 98.6 yards a game average ranks third in the SEC. Stewart ranks fifth in the SEC with 67.4 yards receiving a game and his 607 yards receiving are first among freshmen in the conference.
LSU’s defense has been thriving under first-year coordinator Matt House.
House joined LSU after spending three years as linebackers coach for the Kansas City Chiefs – a stint that included two Chiefs' Super Bowl appearances and one title. This week, he was named a semifinalist for the Broyles Award, presented to college football’s top assistant coach.
The LSU defense ranks fourth in the SEC with averages of 338.5 yards and 20 points allowed per game and has taken the ball away from opponents 16 times this season, which ranks sixth in the league.
His performance led to questions this week about his potential candidacy for head coaching openings elsewhere.
“If Matt House gets an opportunity where he thinks he is going to be better for it, I will help him in any way possible,” Kelly said. “That’s part of this profession.”
“I don’t know that Matt House came here to be the defensive coordinator for (just) a year,” Kelly continued, noting that he thinks House and his family “like it here.
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel contributed to this report.
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