COLLEGE STATION, Texas — If LSU is going to have a chance to beat No. 1 Alabama, it’s going to have to do as good a job fixing stuff during the next two weeks as defensive coordinator John Chavis did fixing things Saturday.
The Tigers go into their open date with a 7-1 record as they prepare for the Nov. 3 Southeastern Conference showdown against the undefeated Crimson Tide.
LSU escaped Kyle Field with a 24-19 victory in a game that turned the Tigers’ way as Chavis gradually found ways to better handle Johnny Manziel and the Aggies’ dangerous offense.
Even a week of practicing for Manziel wasn’t sufficient to get a handle on him initially because the simulation of him isn’t the same as the real thing. Manziel ran and passed A&M to a touchdown on the game’s first possession and kept LSU off balance for much of the first half.
Chavis switched from a four-man front to a three-man front and put more defensive backs on the field. The Tigers placed less emphasis on charging at Manziel and more on containing him and forcing him to throw over the line and into traffic.
LSU began the game like a team that missed its wakeup call for the 11 a.m. kickoff. It was getting beat on both sides of the ball, and its struggling offense was struggling with poor field position.
Though the Tigers would eventually score 24 points, for much of the first half it felt as though they would never catch up if they allowed the Aggies to get on top by more than two touchdowns.
It also was apparent that any turnaround was going to have to be triggered by the defense and then permeate the rest of the team, rather than the other way around.
Manziel and the Aggies zipped down the field again on their second possession, marching from their 20 to the Tigers 19. But LSU stiffened and forced a field goal to stop the bleeding.
A&M flirted with points on its third possession as well, moving from its 25 to the LSU 39, but the Tigers got another stop and forced a punt. LSU forced another punt before the Aggies drove again, and the Tigers forced another field goal.
A&M had a big edge in yards gained (231-61) but just a 12-0 lead. LSU had settled down after a bad start, but it still needed a catalyst.
Jalen Collins intercepted Manziel, and the offense, taking advantage of its first advantageous field position, marched 58 yards to a touchdown.
Moments later, Ronald Martin forced a fumble, Lamin Barrow recovered and the offense took advantage again. Zach Mettenberger’s 29-yard touchdown pass to Kadron Boone gave the Tigers a 14-12 lead after a half in which the Aggies outplayed the Tigers on all but a handful of plays.
In the second half, LSU continued to contain Manziel and took the ball away three more times. Though it allowed a late touchdown drive, it made a Drew Alleman field goal and a Jeremy Hill touchdown run stand.
The victory kept the Tigers’ championship hopes in their hands. Victories against Alabama and a week later against Mississippi State would put LSU in control of the SEC West and in position to return to the BCS Championship game if it continues to win.
But performances like the on one against A&M and the ones the Tigers have generally turned in this season won’t be good enough to achieve such lofty goals.
LSU was penalized a season-worst 13 times and passed for a season-low 97 yards against A&M.
The Tigers have an extra week to get ready for the Crimson Tide, while Bama plays State for first place in the West.
It’s obvious what needs to get fixed, and there’s no time to waste.