From worst to first: No. 6 LSU looks to complete SEC season with win at rival Texas A&M

Junior wide receiver Malik Nabers (8) was one of six Tigers named to the All-SEC preseason first team on Tuesday. PHOTO BY: Jonathan Mailhes

The LSU-Texas A&M game was shifted to the final week of the regular season for effect. It was believed the two bordering states shared a natural rivalry that could be showcased by a Week 12 showdown with implications stretching farther than just bragging rights.

One team has taken care of its end of the bargain, while the other has floundered.  

No. 6 LSU (9-2 6-1 in SEC) wants to finish what it’s started under first-year coach Brian Kelly. The Tigers have already secured the SEC Western division title and berth in the Dec. 3 SEC Championship Game against Georgia.

But to truly scale this season’s mountain, the College Football Playoffs, LSU still has some important work to do and that includes Saturday’s game at Texas A&M (4-7, 1-6) at Kyle Field at 6 p.m.

ESPN will televise the game which will can be heard locally over 98.1-FM.

“It’s still definitely a one game at a time process,” LSU defensive end BJ Ojulari said. “We’re not looking too far ahead. Everyone’s telling us we control our own destiny. We’re not going to do anything to put that in jeopardy. Texas A&M’s still a great team, led by a great head coach with a great history. We have to stay focused on the task at hand and play each game one week at a time.”

LSU’s attempting to complete its worst-to-first season with a sixth straight victory that would also give the Tigers their 17th 10-win season in school history.

That would also keep the Tigers (No. 5 in CFP) within arm’s reach of a CFP berth going into next week’s game with Georgia where a win over the Bulldogs is expected to catapult them to among the nation’s top four teams.

“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,” Kelly said. “I think it does a lot in terms of solidifying your postseason opportunities. I think it puts you in a different category, but I don’t think you can go into the season going, ‘We have to get to 10 (wins)’. I think you can go into the season about winning the SEC West. This is important a football game because we want to continue to get better as a football team as we go into the SEC Championship Game. It’s important for us because each week for us we’re building something within our program.”

Texas A&M represents the opposite end of the spectrum in 2022.

The Aggies, under fifth-year coach Jimbo Fisher, were ranked sixth in The AP preseason Top 25, were still 3-1 after a 23-21 win over Arkansas before dropping six straight games – including four by less than 10 points.

A&M’s had 35 players miss multiple games this season because of injuries or suspensions and will start their third different quarterback – freshman Conner Weigman – against LSU.  

“They’re a talented team,” LSU senior defensive end Ali Gaye said. “They haven’t had the best season, but we know they’re going to play their best against us. We’re going to come at them the same as we do anybody and stack on last week, get better and bring it. It’s not game off. It’s the last game so we’ve got finish strong.”

LSU, with a rebuilt roster under Kelly, had to respond to a disappointing start when Damian Ramos had an extra point blocked that would have sent the game with Florida State to overtime. Instead, the Tigers had to pick up the pieces of that 24-23 setback to the Seminoles and have only lost once since that Sept. 4 game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

“They’ve gotten more comfortable with their schemes,” Fisher said of LSU. “The guys have gotten more comfortable, more consistent in what they’ve done. The quarterback (Jayden Daniels), in some really critical moments, has made big plays with his legs and feet and throwing the football, really making those plays. In those one-play games they were able gain confidence from early and they kept building on those, and he’s done a nice job of that.”

Fisher was hopeful of having two of his top offensive weapons back from injury. He was pointing toward the returns of running back Devon Achane (158 carries, 887 yards, 6 TDs) and wide receiver Evan Stewart (49 catches, 607 yards, 2 TDs), who both missed last week’s 20-3 win over UMass, for the LSU game.

“Certainly, when we talk about a talented football team, 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. (Texas A&M coach) Jimbo (Fisher) obviously is an outstanding football coach. I’ve gone against him when he was at Florida State. Certainly, this is their last game, the last one that they play this year against LSU, their rival. They’ll play their absolute best against us, and we’ll have to meet and exceed our play.”

Daniels is only one of three FBS quarterbacks to have passed for more than 2,000 yards (2,377) and rushed for more than 700 yards (740). He’s completed 69.6% of his passes for 15 touchdowns and his 3,117 yards are the fourth best in school history with Joe Burrow’s (6,039 in 2019) leading the way.

His top target is wide receiver Malik Nabers with 51 catches for 657 yards and a touchdown. Top rusher among running back Josh Williams (54 carries, 477, 6 TDs) could return from a sprained knee and join a backfield rotation of Noah Cain (54-296, 7 TDs) and John Emery Jr. (57-266, 2 TDs).

“After we lost to Florida State, in the locker room, coach Kelly says there’s no need to panic,” Ojulari said. “We know our potential, we know what we have to do and we’re going to continue to apply his process, applying our process each and every week. Later on, we started to see the benefits of locking in, everyone buying in to that process. We’re sitting at a good position right now, to hopefully reach all of our goals that we set early in the year.”

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William Weathers

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