No. 18 Tigers roar into clash with Texas A&M (Nov 25, 2017)
BATON ROUGE, La. -- After LSU lost to Troy on Sept. 30 to fall to 3-2 on the season, Tigers fans pretty much abandoned any hope they could salvage a decent season.
Seven weeks later, the No. 18 Tigers are sitting at 8-3 and need a victory Saturday over Texas A&M at Tiger Stadium to put squarely into play an attractive bowl bid and a 10-win season, which would be an amazing resume-builder for coach Ed Orgeron.
But first, LSU must not look past the Aggies (7-4, 4-3 SEC), who despite back-to-back wins must deal with speculation that coach Kevin Sumlin, after six seasons at College Station, is in the crosshairs of the program's big-time boosters.
Reports are swirling that Sumlin may be fired after the LSU game.
Asked Tuesday if he felt he would return as the Texas A&M coach next season, Sumlin replied: "Why wouldn't I?"
Texas A&M went 11-2 in Sumlin's first season (2012), but the Aggies dipped to 9-4 in 2013 and then posted three consecutive 8-5 seasons. A loss to LSU would guarantee a fourth straight five-loss season.
"I came here to Texas A&M to win football games," Sumlin said. "What we do and how we've done it has been the right way. It will continue to be the right way."
When Sumlin was told about rumors he would be fired as coach after Saturday's game, he replied: "I haven't heard that."
Making it tougher for Sumlin is LSU's recent track record against the Aggies. LSU has beaten Texas A&M six straight times, including the last five when the Aggies were a member of the SEC.
Texas A&M has a $9.8 billion endowment and aggressively put $500 million into upgrades of Kyle Field to compete with the powers of the SEC, so there is little doubt it is a serious player in the college football arms race. The Aggies are believed to be looking seriously at Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher if Sumlin is fired.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron, meanwhile, has at least temporarily put the hounds at bay by winning five of his last six games, a streak that has coincided with the return to form of tailback Derrius Guice and pass-rush specialist Arden Key.
Key is questionable to play against the Aggies because of a sore knee, but Guice has been healthy for the last month, and his play has reflected that. Orgeron said he expects Guice and Key -- both juniors -- to enter the NFL draft next year because they are certain first-round picks.
"They haven't talked about it," Orgeron said. "I'm going to assume they're going to go out just like everybody else."
Key missed LSU's entire spring practice for undisclosed reasons and then had surgery on his shoulder, which caused him to miss the first two games of the season. Key was overweight when he returned and did not regain his form until the Auburn game Oct. 14. He has since lost 20 pounds and is playing at 250 pounds.
Key has recorded 33 tackles and four sacks in his eight starts. Orgeron has never identified Key's offseason challenges except to say they were "personal problems."
"We gave him some help, got it fixed, and I was proud of him," Orgeron said. "And now, he's playing his best football."
Key is still listed as questionable against the Aggies.
Orgeron revealed that Guice, who got off to a slow start, suffered a knee injury in a preseason scrimmage on a play in which he tried to leap a defender. He said Guice did not get back to 100 percent until an Oct. 21 game against Ole Miss in which he shredded the Rebels' defense for 276 rushing yards.
"He's been playing fantastic ball ever since," Orgeron said.
Guice's career rushing average of 6.75 surpasses Bo Jackson (6.62) for the highest in SEC history.
"Derrius is always around my office," Orgeron said. "He's a member of our family. He's an energetic guy, and he just wants to be loved just like everybody else. He's a different guy off the field than on the field."
Under former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis, the Aggies are the best pass-rushing team in the SEC, with a league-high 36 sacks.
"They are extremely talented up front and get after the quarterback and get pressure with their down four guys," LSU quarterback Danny Etling said. "Those are things you have to challenge yourself to be ready for. They've got a talented defense and a good coach."