It took until the 11th game in a record-setting season for an opponent to find a reliable brake pedal to push that would slow Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and the Aggies’ high-powered offense.
But LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis applied it with authority in last week’s 34-10 romp in Baton Rouge, La., holding the Aggies 39.2 points below their season scoring average and limiting Manziel to a career-low 39 percent completion rate (16 of 41).
No. 21 A&M (8-3, 4-3 in SEC) saw its FBS-best streak of 13 consecutive 40-point games disappear in the bayou. The Aggies gained a season-low 299 yards and managed one touchdown against Chavis’ troops.
That raises questions about whether LSU, which has posted a 2-0 record against A&M and limited the Aggies to 14.5 points per outing in the Manziel era, has a blueprint for stopping the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner that other teams can mimic.
The first potential imitator will be No. 5 Missouri (10-1, 6-1), which can earn a berth in the SEC Championship Game by defeating A&M in Saturday’s game in Columbia, Mo. (6:45 p.m., ESPN). Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel made it clear he will be scouring videotapes of the A&M-LSU contest, seeking secrets he can apply Saturday.
“Everybody looks at everybody,” Pinkel said during his weekly news conference in Columbia. “You look at them and try to learn things and apply them to your own team. But you’ve got to look at your own personnel. You can’t all of a sudden run a different defense or coverage you have never played before. I think LSU has their number right now. Nobody else has.”
A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said Tuesday he plans to correct a “combination of things” that unraveled last week for the A&M offense, including blown assignments and improper sight adjustments as LSU trotted out unexpected defensive alignments and fresh blitzes.
“We’ve got to find a way to pick ourselves back up and get rolling,” Sumlin said. “We didn’t play well enough or coach well enough to win that game. I don’t think we handled the environment very well. But I think the attitude and motivation is just fine.
“We’re playing in another national TV game against a top-5 opponent. If you’re any kind of competitor, which the guys in this building are, your attitude shouldn’t be any different because you lost on the road as an underdog. The sky is not falling.”
But the offense was stymied and Manziel looked mortal, even panicky at times. That’s a season first and the Missouri defense, which leads the SEC in sacks (35) and interceptions (18), has been better than LSU’s in most weeks.
Without question, LSU’s ability to add fresh wrinkles to its defensive schemes during a bye week before facing A&M offered an advantage Missouri cannot match this week. After the game, LSU players and coaches said extra time to study Manziel-related tendencies helped, as did having receiver Odell Beckham Jr. simulate Manziel in practice.
In terms of an LSU blueprint for stopping the Aggies, the primary elements are these:
• Use a lot of coverage packages with six defensive backs, getting maximum speed and athleticism on the field.
• Vary the types and frequency of blitzes.
• Be patient in the pass rush and stress containment. Do not start chasing Manziel before he voluntarily leaves the pocket under pressure.
• Force Manziel to his left when he leaves the pocket. That will require Manziel, as a right-handed quarterback, to throw across his body on the run if he spots an open receiver while in scramble mode. That’s the toughest throw to make for any quarterback.
• Limit A&M’s touches by having your offense control the ball. LSU maintained possession for 40:19 with a ground-and-pound approach, holding A&M to a season-low 59 plays.
Can Missouri follow a similar blueprint Saturday? Mizzou defensive end E.J. Gaines is not sure but acknowledged LSU’s ability to limit Manziel to 274 yards of total offense (108 below his season average) offers a reason for optimism for his defense, too.
“Yes. I guess you could say that, but it doesn’t happen very often,” Gaines said. “We’re not looking on stopping him, but slowing him down and containing him.”
After the LSU game, Manziel said he and other team leaders “have to get these guys together and pull them closer than ever” in practice this week to get the offense back on track against Missouri. A key issue, said Manziel, was his 2-of-11 passing performance in the first quarter.
“For me, a big thing is getting completions early,” Manziel said. “In some of the other games, where you go 10-of-10 or you go 7-for-8, you start completing some high-percentage passes and get in a rhythm. That’s what we do and we have to do that to be successful.”
LSU prevented that last week. Whether Missouri can follow a similar blueprint Saturday will determine if these Tigers reign as SEC East Division champs or if A&M emerges as a spoiler by getting its high-powered offense back in gear.