Eyeing 10-win season, Tigers need to be wary of Aggies

BATON ROUGE – “All they need is one.”

LSU’s Brian Kelly, in the fashion of any college coach discussing his upcoming opponent, heaped mounds of praise on Jimbo Fisher and the floundering Texas A&M football team during his press conference on Monday.

Whether it was warranted or not is a great question that probably won’t spark the most thought-provoking debates among LSU fans. There’s a certain relief in watching a rival suffer through the dysfunction the Tigers and their fan base went through the last two seasons.

But Kelly’s right — the Aggies don’t have the record they want, but all they need is one win against LSU. It’ll cap the season on a high note, maybe help Fisher save face on the recruiting trail, and leave A&M not saddled by an SEC losing streak entering next season.

It’s almost surreal to consider that, in the wake of A&M compiling the country’s highest-ranked  recruiting class last winter, the Aggies are 4-7. Kelly made it a point to mention that the talent Texas A&M has rostered doesn’t match the record. And, lo and behold, Kelly was right again.

The Aggies are going through upheaval. There’s Mushin “Moose” Muhammad II, a star wideout, actively discussing on Twitter an internal conflict between he and Fisher over his choice to wear sleeves during a game (Fisher has a policy against skill position players wearing sleeves). There was the very public conflict between Fisher and Nick Saban this summer ignited by Saban’s accusing A&M of “buying” its recruiting class with NIL money. Never mind the constant carousel of comments by media and fans regarding Fisher’s exorbitant contract that would for sure take a massive buyout — $86 million is the most commonly cited figure — from boosters.

Suffice to say, there’s a lot bubbling underneath the surface of that locker room, and opposing coaches could breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they’re facing that circus on Saturday.

Yet, time and time again since arriving in Baton Rouge last winter, Kelly’s proven that he won’t take anything for granted.

There were justifiable fears among fans of a trap game against Arkansas, which was probably LSU’s sloppiest outing since the loss to Florida State – but Kelly made aggressive decisions throughout that wintry day in Fayetteville, not playing it close to the parka. Last Saturday’s visit by UAB was written off as an easy win, and while it was, it was because the offense rebounded to have one of its cleanest performances of the season, and the defense was dominant in the final three quarters.

Kelly hasn’t done things the traditional LSU way, either: Jayden Daniels has constantly rewritten the rushing record books for quarterbacks at LSU, and while Daniels is having a fine season worthy of dark horse discussion for the Heisman Trophy, he didn’t exactly have a high bar in the run game from past LSU quarterbacks: Justin Jefferson’s 450-yard year was enough to rank No. 1 on the single-season all-time rushing yards list for quarterbacks. Daniels eclipsed that in half a season.

Then there’s the running-back-by-committee approach, which has proven wildly effective after the use of a featured back for much of the last decade at LSU. That move’s paid off in dividends: the Tigers have four different running backs that have pitched in major playing time in Josh Williams, John Emery, Jr., Armoni Goodwin, and Noah Cain. Against UAB it was Cain, a Penn State-transfer who had previously seen the least amount of playing time of the four, scoring three touchdowns. With Goodwin gone for the rest of the year due to a knee injury, Cain’s emergence is key.

Kelly hit the lottery in the transfer portal this offseason, and he pointed to Cain and linebacker Greg Brooks as tw of his biggest gets, even saying that his staff “knew what they were getting” when they pulled them out of the transfer portal.

Those moves haven’t just allowed Kelly to survive in his first year – he’s thrived. On the precipice of a 10-win season – LSU’s third since 2013 – his Tigers need to grasp his own piece of wisdom.

“All they need is one.”

Contact Ryne at rgberthelot@gmail.com