Game starts at 11 a.m.
Tick … tick … tick.
The figurative sound of the game clock ticking will be music to LSU’s ears as the sixth-ranked Tigers play 20th-ranked Texas A&M on Saturday in College Station, Texas.
LSU wants to play keep-away from the Aggies, who are an antsy lot. They can’t get to the line of scrimmage fast enough, snap the ball fast enough, put the ball in dynamic freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel’s hands often enough, or run enough of coach Kevin Sumlin’s plays.
A&M leads the Southeastern Conference in scoring (47.0 points per game), rushing offense (235.8 yards per game) and total offense (543.7). The only area the Aggies are slacking is passing offense, in which they rank second (307.8).
“They’re a team that wants to try to put up a lot of points,” LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger said. “The best way to keep them from doing that and to help our defense out is to have the ball for the most time of possession.”
The Tigers have shown the past two weeks just how important time of possession can be. Two weeks ago, in steamy Gainesville, Fla., the Tigers shut out Florida in the first half, but eventually their meager possession time of 22:36 helped the Gators wear down the LSU defense and prevail 14-6.
Last week, the Tigers turned it around against South Carolina, possessing the ball for 36:57 and running a season-high 78 plays in a 23-21 victory.
Tick … tick … tick.
“I think we saw the importance of having more plays,” tackle Josh Dworaczyk said. “As an offense, we have to make sure that we get as many opportunities as we can and to go out there and have those long drives. Really, the time of possession was huge. When you have that chance to keep the ball and make sure that you’re controlling the game, you always feel like you’re on top even if you’re not winning the game at that certain time.
“You feel like you’re on top because you have the ability to control it, and you know your offense can go back out there and put together these drives and hopefully when we get there at the end of those big long drives we can put seven on the board.”
LSU twice matched a season-high with 16-play drives, but both ended with field goals. The Tigers have scored 15 touchdowns in 32 possessions that have reached the opponents’ 20-yard line (47 percent). That’s the fourth-worst percentage of red-zone touchdowns in the SEC.
“I think our guys have more understanding now than ever of how important that is,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “The fact is that we’ve gone down to the red zone so often and not come away with sevens, and we’re more likely to come away with threes. They recognize the need to win in this conference. Especially when you’re down there, the need to get sevens is important.”
The Aggies are pretty good at getting sevens from inside the opponents’ 20 and from farther out. They’re fourth in the SEC with touchdowns in 67.9 percent of their red zone visits. They have 63 plays of 20 or more yards, and their scoring drives average just 2:23 in duration.
Manziel, who leads the SEC in rushing (676 yards), broke his own conference record last week when he accumulated 576 total yards. He ran for three touchdowns and passed for three in a 59-57 victory against Louisiana Tech in Shreveport.
“He’s really fast,” LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan said. “We’ve played a couple of dual-threat quarterbacks this year, but he’s faster than them. He does a good job of faking like he’s going to throw to get you off your feet, then taking off running.
“The coaches are telling us to stay on our feet when we get near him and tackle him low so he doesn’t get away.”
Defensive end Sam Montgomery, who tied a career-high with two sacks against South Carolina, said the Tigers need to “squeeze the pocket” to put Manziel in an uncomfortable position.
“I love quarterbacks that try to get out of the pocket because they let their guard down,” said end Barkevious Mingo, who has been known to run down the fastest of ball carriers. “They’re looking straight ahead and they don’t know what’s coming from whatever side we may be coming from.”
It won’t be enough for LSU just to contain Manziel when he runs because he’s third in the SEC with an average of 280.0 passing yards per game and in pass efficiency (162.8).
Miles said it will take “all the strategies and all the calls” to successfully defend Manziel. Miles said the Tigers might not use a spy — devoting one player to defending Manziel — but will have one or two defenders “keep a wary eye” on Manziel, whose productivity belies the fact that he has played just six college football games.
“He has made strides in every game,” Sumlin said. “Every week we have given him more. Last week he was able to go through his progressions a little bit better. He was able to get the ball down the field vertically probably as much as he has all year. That’s going to open things up for him and for our offense.”