It's Taysom time!
While most NFL fans and pundits presumed Jameis Winston would take over as quarterback in Drew Brees's absence, New Orleans coach Sean Payton zagged, opting to give the versatile Taysom Hill his first start as an NFL quarterback.
After shaking off some early jitters, the Mormon Missile settled in for a surprisingly efficient outing, completing 18 of 23 passes and capping off two scoring drives with a pair of rushing touchdowns in the 24-9 win over Atlanta. Michael Thomas produced his best performance of the season, with nine receptions for 104 yards, while the rest of the Saints offensive arsenal produced timely plays to regularly keep the chains moving for New Orleans.
The star of last Sunday, however, was the New Orleans defense, who gobbled up Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan all afternoon, sacking Ryan eight times and forcing two interceptions. Defensive end Cameron Jordan led the way with three sacks, as the Saints kept Atlanta out of the end zone and held the Falcons offense scoreless in the second half.
In Fayetteville, LSU hung on to win their third game of the season, thanks to a blocked field goal, to seal a 27-24 victory. Despite the LSU secondary giving up a slew of big plays to keep Arkansas alive throughout the game, the Tigers controlled the clock (over 41 minutes in time of possession), finally reestablished the rushing game (148 yards) and did not allow Arkansas to convert on third down (0-for-10). Freshman quarterback TJ Finley bounced back after an awful performance at Auburn on Halloween to keep LSU's hopes of a winning record this season alive.
The Tigers and Saints both take their talents on the road this Thanksgiving weekend, hoping for another win to be thankful for in this unpredictable 2020 season.
Saints (8-2) at Denver (4-6)
Where/When to Watch: Sunday, November 29, at 3:05 p.m. on FOX
Taysom Hill's starting debut combined with a dominant defensive performance was the perfect recipe to cook the Dirty Birds. Now it's time to see if the Stormin' Mormon can follow up his exciting performance on the road at Denver.
One key advantage the Broncos have over Atlanta is that Denver (and every team moving forward) now has film on Hill. It's one thing to catch a defense by surprise with fresh quarterback play, but it's much harder once NFL defensive minds have a week to scheme against your tendencies.
Normally, a game in late November in Denver would be a cause for concern for a Saints fan. Game-time weather is projected to be in the low 40s, and New Orleans and Drew Brees normally don't fare well in cold-weather games. Hill is different. He was born in Idaho and played his college ball at Brigham Young in Utah. This guy lives for high-altitude, cold-weather games.
Plus, he's facing off against Drew Lock, one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. Lock, who's played eight games this year, ranks 28th in passing yards (1,767), 28th in touchdown passes (7), 31st in interceptions (11), and 33rd in completion percentage (55.6 percent). He's only a second-year player, but this guy should not be a starting NFL quarterback right now. The Saints defense should be licking their chops for the chance to harass Lock the entire game. Lock's only been sacked 11 times, but expect that number to climb this weekend. Thanks in part to Lock, the Broncos are last in the NFL in turnover margin (-13). Should the former Missouri Tiger have a good game, New Orleans should be ashamed of themselves.
Denver tight end Noah Fant could create some mismatch problems for New Orleans, and Jerry Jeudy is a promising young receiver, but the Broncos are devoid of many offensive playmakers. Lead running back Melvin Gordon is averaging 48 yards over the past five games. Does this paint enough of a picture here?
On defense, the Broncos show flashes of ferocity but are generally a mediocre bunch. Last week, they held Miami's offense, which has led by a rookie quarterback, to 13 points, yet the unit allowed over 36 points per game for the four prior games. If anyone can disrupt Hill's second start, it'll be linebackers Malik Reed and Bradley Chubb. The pair have combined for 13 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. In the secondary, Justin Simmons and Bryce Callahan lead the group tasked with covering the plethora of Saints receivers.
Denver has one win over a possible playoff team (Miami), and New Orleans's defense appears to be peaking at the right time. Hill may have to rely more on the Saints' stable of offensive talent this week, but New Orleans should take care of business in the Rockies.
Prediction: Saints 27, Broncos 17
LSU (3-3) at #5 Texas A&M (5-1)
Where/When to Watch: Saturday, November 28, at 6:00 p.m. on ESPN
LSU better buckle up the chinstraps this weekend.
The Aggies' last two games have been postponed, so they're rested and out for revenge.
Texas A&M hasn't forgotten about the 50-7 beatdown the Tigers laid on the Aggies last year in Baton Rouge, and you better believe they'll be out to avenge 2019's embarrassing loss on Saturday.
Although the Aggies haven't faced stiff competition since their 41-38 upset of Florida in early October, this Texas A&M squad appears to be a step above Jimbo Fisher's first two teams in College Station.
Senior quarterback Kellen Mond is having a solid season, passing for 1,468 yards and 16 touchdowns with just two interceptions while leading the Aggie offense to the best third down conversion percentage in the country (62 percent). Credit the Texas A&M offensive line, who's been nearly impenetrable this year, allowing only two sacks all season, for a lot of Mond's success. If LSU hopes to slow down this offense, they'll need to figure out how to get pressure on Mond in a way few defenses have this year. Limiting (or even eliminating) massive passing plays from opposing offenses would be nice, too.
The Aggies trail only Ole Miss in SEC rushing offense, putting up over 189 yards per game on the ground. Running back Isiah Spiller leads the way with 643 yards and five touchdowns and is averaging over 125 yards during the Aggies' current four-game winning streak.
Here's where things get tricky for LSU: Texas A&M leads the SEC in total defense—better than Alabama, Georgia, Florida, you name it—allowing less than 340 yards per game to opposing offenses. That's a potential disaster for the Tigers' freshman quarterback, who played well against two overmatched opponents but also looked every bit the diaper dandy he is on the road at Auburn.
The Aggies also rank second in the conference for rushing defense, allowing just 95 yards per game. LSU's running game has been inconsistent at best, and the Aggies are primed to snuff out any semblance of a Tiger rushing threat. Texas A&M and LSU love to control the clock, ranking one and two in the SEC for time of possession. Winning the ball-control battle is more important for LSU and could give the Tigers a much-needed edge.
The fun part about this game is that LSU has the chance to play spoiler. Texas A&M still has a shot to make the College Football Playoff, but a loss to LSU would almost certainly extinguish those lofty aspirations. To do that, the Tigers are going to have to play a nearly flawless game, and several key players and units (freshman quarterback, secondary, offensive line, and running backs) are going to have to rise to a level that hasn't existed for most of the season.
Fisher and the Aggies have something to play for, want revenge, and seem to be the better team in nearly every facet of the game. Texas A&M has undoubtedly been the little brother in this rivalry since 2011, but sometimes the younger sibling gets the upper hand. The Tigers might avoid a lopsided loss, but it's unlikely that they'll secure a victory in College Station.
Prediction: Texas A&M 31, LSU 24
Andrew Alexander is a contributing writer, football fan, and unofficial president of the Arch Manning Fan Club. Follow him on Twitter at @TheOtherAA and listen to the Krewe du Drew podcast.