High stakes for Sumlin as Texas A&M hosts LSU
No title, but plenty of other matters will be on the line when No. 22 Texas A&M hosts No. 25 LSU to top off Thanksgiving night – including the status of the two coaches.
Kickoff at Kyle Field in College Station is 7:30 p.m. ET Thursday with ESPN handling the telecast.
The visiting Tigers (6-4, 4-3 SEC) will be playing to enhance the chances of interim coach Ed Orgeron earning permanent status with the program. LSU's regular season was cut short by a game because of the cancellation of a non-conference contest with South Alabama to accommodate a rescheduled meeting with Florida.
Though always considered a long-shot to be named full-time, Orgeron's chances began to improve when the team responded well after he took over for Les Miles, who was fired after a 2-2 start. The Tigers rolled to three easy victories, were in a scoreless tie with No. 1 Alabama after three quarters and lost just 10-0, then bounced back a week later to rout Arkansas 38-10.
But the mistake-laden 16-10 loss to a Florida team that was missing six injured starters derailed whatever momentum Orgeron had gained in his quest to keep the job.
“It's been fantastic,” said Orgeron, a native of Larose, La., who is 4-2 in his interim stint. “What a ride. The head coach at LSU being from Louisiana, the way the people have reacted, the way the players reacted. We've played very well in most games. It's been fun. It's been fun around to be the staff and fun to see our players grow.
“It's just been an exciting challenge. I've grown as a head coach like I try to grow every day.”
A decision on the new coach likely will come in a matter of days after this game.
A&M coach Kevin Sumlin's job may not be in immediate jeopardy, but a loss to the Tigers could start up the grumbling.
The Aggies (8-3, 4-3 SEC) are seeking a ninth win that would give them a shot at 10 victories with a bowl win. They haven't been in double digits in wins since going 11-2 in Sumlin's first season in 2012, which also is the last year they finished over .500 in SEC play.
If the Aggies lose, however, it would be a sixth straight loss to the Tigers, who have won all four meetings since the Aggies joined the SEC, and continue what has been a November slump for Sumlin's teams. The Aggies are 11-8 for the month under Sumlin overall but only 7-8 over the last four seasons.
Although the Aggies have consistently stumbled on the brink of competing for the SEC West title, Sumlin's argument is that they have at least made themselves relevant in the discussion.
Texas A&M went 26-25 in its last four seasons in the Big 12. Since joining the SEC, the Aggies are 44-19 under Sumlin.
“For us to be where we want to be, we do need to take that next step and play for championships and be involved in that conversation consistently,” Sumlin said. “Where we are right now is a team that has made some strides since coming into this league.”
Both LSU and A&M have injury issues.
Linebacker Kendall Beckwith, the Tigers' leading tackler with 91 stops, is out with a knee injury, and running back Leonard Fournette is still hobbled by an ankle problem.
Derrius Guice, who is the team's leading rusher with 964 yard but had a couple of key mistakes late against Florida — fumbling inside the Gators' 10-yard line in the second quarter and running the wrong way on the final play of the game at Florida's 1-yard line, would replace Fournette. Donnie Alexander (36 tackles and an interception) likely will start for Beckwith.
For the Aggies. junior Jake Hubenak, who took over for the injured Trevor Knight, injured his shoulder in the loss to Ole Miss but quarterbacked the win over Texas-San Antonio.
“He's day-to-day working hard every day to get his shoulder back in its usual shape,” offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. “I was very impressed with how he gritted it out on Saturday.”