By Brett Martel
The Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. — If Les Miles is worried about how his embattled defense will hold up against Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M’s relentless, up-tempo offense, he isn’t showing it.
The ninth-ranked Aggies’ visit to Death Valley on Saturday afternoon will feature two of the top quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference, as well as some of college football’s best receivers and running backs — seemingly all the needed ingredients of a high-scoring affair.
LSU’s coach, however, said he is “not looking forward to that style of game.”
“I want the defense to stop them,” Miles said. “Certainly we recognize the challenge that an offense like A&M will bring. ... I like my defense. I suspect they’ll play best in this game. I think they’ll be a challenge to A&M and I think being in Tiger Stadium will be a challenge to A&M. It’s a much different environment and a place where the home team generally does pretty good.”
No. 18 LSU has opened as a four-point favorite and has been good at home, winning all five contests in Death Valley this season.
Yet it’s defense has been inconsistent and shaky at times. In LSU’s last game — a 38-17 loss at Alabama two weekends ago — the Tigers’ defense looked strong in the first half before wilting in the second, when No. 1 the Crimson Tide put together three unanswered touchdown drives, turning a tense 17-all tie into a laugher.
Now LSU must contend with Manziel, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, whose talent, according to Miles, is unsurpassed in college football.
Manziel has accounted for 300-plus total yards in 19 straight starts. He racked up 500 total yards against an Alabama defense that leads the SEC with 272.8 yards allowed per game.
Texas A&M’s 578 yards per game and scoring average of 49.2 easily lead the SEC. Auburn ranks second with 499.9 yards per game and Missouri is second in scoring with 41.3 points per game.
“It’s a great challenge,” Miles said. “It’ll be a great matchup. I think our defense is really looking forward to it. These Tigers look forward to a challenge and this is really going to be one. I think our guys will play well. I think we have a nice scheme and a variety of ways to pressure, disguise coverage, get in the backfield.”
Miles said his defense will need to be good at getting off the field on third down to avoid wearing down against A&M’s up-tempo offense. The coach added that LSU plans to rotate at least two players at every defensive position, and as many as three players at some spots, to stay fresh.
LSU cornerback Jalen Mills said the Tigers defense is bracing for a test of stamina.
“It is a day game. It’s going to be hot. If somebody catches a cramp or somebody may be gassed and may need to sit out for a play or two, we do have the depth for it,” Mills said. “Your name could be called at any time during that game, so you have to be ready. No sitting on the sidelines.”
LSU, which had a bye last week, also has been using explosive receiver and kick returner Odell Beckham Jr. as the scout team quarterback, whose job is to mimic the opposing team’s starter in practice against the first-team defense.
“It was fun pretending to be Johnny this week and running around, just trying to make plays, trying to give my defense the best look possible,” said Beckham, who played some quarterback out of the “wildcat” formation in high school.
LSU is also hoping to control the football, which will put a premium on their ability to run as much as they may like the passing chemistry quarterback Zach Mettenberger has had with top receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry.
“We know what kind of offense they have over there and the recipe for success against those guys is running the football successfully,” LSU running back Jeremy Hill said, noting that LSU’s ability to run was a key factor in the Tigers’ triumph at Texas A&M last season.
“We want to get 35 minutes or more in time of possession, just keeping (Manziel) off the field as much as possible and helping our defense, keeping those guys fresh,” Hill said. “In the Alabama game, they were out there for a lot of plays and we were on the sideline for most of the second half and that hurt our defense. ... They got tired out there.”
Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.