LSU football: Brian Kelly wary of Aggies in role-reversal matchup
LSU is where Texas A&M was expected to be.
And Texas A&M – at best – is where LSU might have been.
No team in the country has exceeded preseason expectations more than the No. 5 Tigers and no team in the country has fallen shorter of preseason expectations than the fading Aggies.
LSU (9-2 overall, 6-1 SEC), expected to begin a multiyear rebuilding project in coach Brian Kelly’s first season, sees its Saturday game at A&M as an opportunity to sharpen its edge going into its SEC Championship game appearance against No. 1 Georgia a week later.
An impressive performance would enhance the Tigers’ prospects for a spot in the college football playoffs.
The Aggies (4-7, 1-6) see Saturday’s game as their bowl game because it’s the end of their season and an opportunity to add a signature victory to an otherwise dismal record.
Kelly knows that makes for a dangerous opponent. The Aggies were No. 6 in the AP preseason poll because it was thought they had the talent to compete for the SEC West title.
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The fact that they have turned into an also-ran means they have underachieved for much of the season, but they still have the talent to play an outstanding game.
“They don’t have the wins that they wanted,” Kelly said, “but all they need is one, and that’s to beat LSU.”
Texas A&M was 8-4 and 4-4 in the SEC last season, but Jimbo Fisher’s team upset Alabama and then signed a highly acclaimed recruiting class – paving the way for lofty expectations this season.
“This is their game, last one they play this year, against LSU, their rival,” Kelly said. “They’ll play their best against us and we’ll have to meet and exceed it in our play.”
The Aggies’ best hasn’t been great this season, but they did take Alabama to the wire on the road before losing 24-20. They were stunned early in the season in a 17-14 home loss against Appalachian State and they have lost six consecutive SEC games.
The ballyhooed recruiting class was comprised primarily of defenders, but the offense has had a rough time.
The defense mostly has played well, allowing an average of 21 points a game, but the offense has averaged 21.4 and the Aggies have not scored more than 28 points against an FBS opponent.
“It’s a very talented football team, but it’s young,” Kelly said. “You can see at times it is really scary, and then sometimes there’s a loss there of maybe some focus. But if they put it all together, it’s not a team you want to be around.”
Kelly has emphasized to his players all season the importance of staying focused on improvement and preparation regardless of the opponent.
He cited the workmanlike, non-conference victory against UAB in the home finale last Saturday when describing the Tigers’ focus.
“It’s important for us because we’re building something within our program,” Kelly said. “The UAB game might not have been as important to other people outside of the walls but inside the walls, that was a huge game for us in terms of doing our job, the way the job needed to be done.
“That was really a big hurdle for us and this is another one – going on the road against a talented team that has nothing to lose and you have to play well.”
If LSU plays as well as it has been playing it should finish the regular season with 10 wins for just the 2nd time in the past 12 seasons.
“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, ‘Hey, we have to get to 10.’ ”