Win has similar script
LSU's passing game once again struggled in the win over Texas A&M
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The script was eerily familiar.
With the offense unable to move the ball, LSU's defense stayed on the field and Texas A&M took advantage, controlling the ball and building a 12-point, second-quarter lead Saturday afternoon at Kyle Field.
That's not always a bad thing for LSU.
"[Coach Les] Miles thrives on stuff like that," said running back Michael Ford, whose 20-yard, second-quarter touchdown was the Tigers' first score in the 24-19 comeback win. "That's what he wants, to show the world that we're not going to fold when people get ahead of us."
LSU has proven that this formula is usually good enough. However, the one game in which LSU knows it needs more is next on the schedule.
Waiting on the other side of LSU's bye is a Nov. 3 date with No. 1 Alabama, the team that ruined a near historic Tigers season last year with the 21-0 shutout of the Tigers in the national championship game.
A season ago, LSU had games much like Saturday's win. The Tigers would struggle early, often fall behind, go stagnant on offense, hang in with defense and find another gear to win, often with the help of turnovers.
Those game-changing breaks LSU enjoyed in the regular season never came in the BCS title game and LSU's offense was powerless to kick start itself.
The 2012 edition of this rivalry will feature an LSU team that looks a lot like the 2011 version and an Alabama team that is much better.
The most worrisome issue is LSU's complete inability to sustain a passing game.
Against Texas A&M, LSU won the turnover battle 5-0 and turned two Aggies turnovers into two quick touchdowns and a lead shortly before halftime. That was vintage 2011 Tigers.
However, the turnover margin further masked the issues with LSU's offense. Struggling to complete deep balls on a blustery day, Zach Mettenberger completed 11-of-29 passes for 97 yards. Receivers often had trouble creating separation from an Aggies defense that had given up 450 yards passing the previous week in a win over Louisiana Tech.
So far the anticipated upgrade with LSU's passing game simply has not happened.
"We just need to start clicking a little faster," said wide receiver Kadron Boone, whose diving, 29-yard touchdown catch from Mettenberger gave LSU the lead just before halftime. "[A&M] showed us a different twist, and we had to make a minor adjustment. We just have to make them quicker, so our passing game will be clicking earlier."
Ultimately, it was LSU's running game that really clicked and once again buoyed the offense. Usually facing eight- and nine-man fronts, LSU still rushed for 219 yards and just under 5 yards a carry. Freshman Jeremy Hill had his second straight 100-yard rushing game and his second straight game in which he broke a long touchdown run to ice the game in the fourth quarter.
The defense struggled early against the Aggies' up-tempo offense and the mobility of quarterback Johnny Manziel. But the Tigers went to a dime package -- the 3-2-6 "Mustang" package -- to put more speed on the field to successfully contend with Manziel's talents as the game wore on.
The offense found something in the second half with a two-tight end look that seemed to create creases for the running game -- even with the defense stacked to stop it -- and the Tigers were soon blowing big holes in A&M's front, so much so that big-play Aggies defensive end Damontre Moore commented after the game that the LSU line was "probably the most talented line we have played here."
With that, LSU has its identity.
The Tigers are a ball-control, defensive bunch that most teams fear. Next, however, is the one team in the country -- along with perhaps Florida -- that is as big and as fast as the Tigers.
Is LSU ready for that?
"I'm sorry, but I think that's a dumb question," Mettenberger said. "Of course we are. We aren't afraid of any competition. We don't care what you're ranked or where we're ranked. That's never mattered to this team.
"I can guarantee, we're going to play balls-to-the-wall, 100 percent, [in two weeks]."