Pick 6: Q and A with an opposing beat reporter

Brent Zwerneman has the winning ticket!

Oh, shoot. That only means he was selected for this week’s Pick 6. Brent, surely, would have traded those millions for the Pick 6 anyhow. I mean, it is THE PICK 6.

Enough blabbing. Let’s get to the Pick 6.

Who doesn’t love this kind of Pick 6? WHO?! POINT THEM OUT!

Nope, more blabbing. You can follow Brent and his work for the San Antonio Express-News here and follow him on Twitter at @BrentZwerneman.

Blabbing over. Questions begin.

 1 How do you think Johnny Manziel is different this season than last year?

He’s had his eye on improving as a pure quarterback from the first day of spring drills, both with the idea of helping his team this season and upping his NFL Draft stock for this spring. Manziel has made a point to stay more patient in the pocket, sometimes to his detriment, as the eye-popping runs of last season have been fewer this go-round. But, overall, he’s simply a better “quarterback” at this time than he was last year, when so much of what he did was impromptu (albeit impressive) reaction.

2 In last season’s victory, LSU’s defense had the most success of anyone in stopping Manziel over the last two seasons. What’s the best way to slow Manziel and A&M’s offense?

A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has offered up the closest thing to bulletin-board material for this game that I’ve seen, in consistently pointing out that LSU lost some of its best defenders who did such a good job on Manziel (that should provide the latest round of Tigers plenty of motivation). The best way to slow Manziel is simply by matching (or coming close to matching) his incredible athleticism. Defenses like LSU and Florida were able to do that last season. One can argue the best way is to keep him “contained” – but his completion percentage (.730) is tops in the country.

3 A&M’s defensive statistics rank in the bottom of the league. Why do they struggle so much and is there any hope they’ll have a solid game against LSU?

Previous coach Mike Sherman helped bring an awful lot of talented offensive linemen and skill players onboard from 2008-11, but his recruiting on the other side of the ball bordered on awful, and the program is paying the price in 2013.

While A&M had some senior leaders step forward and play above expectations last season, that simply hasn’t been the case this year, and the Aggies’ defensive woes have cost them a shot at a national title (A&M has scored at least 40 points in every game and 50 in five).

In facing this type of bruising offense, expect A&M to take a step back on defense after taking on relative lightweights Vanderbilt, UTEP and Mississippi State in its last three victories (despite allowing the Bulldogs 41 points with another late-game meltdown).

 4 A big theme in Baton Rouge is LSU’s motivation with three losses and a championship race over. What does A&M have to play for?

The Aggies are motivated by trying to make their first BCS game since 1998, and win their first BCS game in history. To a lesser degree they’re motivated by trying to help Manziel win a second consecutive Heisman – and know they must win at LSU and next week at Missouri for both of the above scenarios to play out like they hope. There’s also something to this newfound rivalry, as the A&M players have heard plenty from some of their older (in some cases much older) brethren regarding how important this series used to be. Even as a nonconference showdown.

5 The forecast for Saturday is gloomy. Rainy, chilly, etc. What does that do, if anything, to A&M and who does it favor?

The wet forecast favors both defenses, but LSU’s in particular because Manziel simply isn’t as “dazzling” when he’s not able to cut on the run as sharply as he’d like. The Aggies, of course, also rely heavily on their passing game, so a wet ball doesn’t help A&M on both the throwing and receiving ends. When A&M has actually concentrated on the run in wet conditions (see at Arkansas in a 45-33 victory) it’s done well – but it just doesn’t seem as if they have the same overall confidence in their running game as their passing game. They do have some talented backs, however, starting with sophomore Trey Williams.

 6 How do you see the game playing out and who wins?

I spent last season picking against the Aggies on the road and was wrong every time. But I’m stubborn, and simply can’t see the A&M defense overcoming LSU’s multifaceted attack. Honestly, it’s amazing Sumlin has won 15 consecutive away games dating to his days with the Houston Cougars in 2011, but that streak will come to an end as night falls in Baton Rouge. LSU 41, A&M 35