COLLEGE STATION (AP) – No. 9 Texas A&M and 18th-ranked LSU had a fierce rivalry when the schools met each year from 1986-1995.
The rivalry has been renewed now that they’re both in the Southeastern Conference, though most of the players are too young to remember a time when their schools played annually. Quarterback Johnny Manziel wasn’t yet 2 years old when the Aggies visited Death Valley in 1994.
“For our current roster, last time we went over there, these guys were just born,” A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “Everybody remembers this used to be a heck of a battle; these guys have never been over there unless they came on a visit. It’s a little bit different for our current players than it is maybe for former students and fans. That was 18 years ago.”
LSU leads the series 28-20-3 and got a 24-19 win last season in College Station. The Aggies have won in their last two trips to LSU, but haven’t had a win in the series since a victory at home in 1995.
Sumlin thinks it will probably take a while for this to regain the feel of a true rivalry game.
“For it to feel like a rivalry to a player, you’ve got to play those guys a couple times,” Sumlin said. “I have a feeling that once we get in that stadium they’ll figure out what kind of atmosphere we’re playing in and what kind of rivalry it is.”
Many of the current Aggies are aware of the competition between these teams in the 1980s and `90s, but they know little about the long history between these teams. They first met in 1899 and their longest stretch of yearly meetings came when they met annually from 1960-75. That’s a span the Aggies would probably like to forget as the Tigers won 12 of those games and the teams played to a tie in 1966.
Running back Ben Malena doesn’t need to know any of the history between these teams to know that this is a big game.
“LSU isn’t a hard game to get hyped up for,” he said. “Rivalries are made up on the outside, what the fans and people say. At the end of the day, if you don’t put your best foot forward, no matter who you’re playing, you’re going to lose. You have to play every game like it’s a rivalry game.”
LSU cornerback Jalen Mills, who grew up in Texas, knows the Aggies will be in for a wild atmosphere when they face the crowd on Saturday.
“Our fans are like no other,” he said. “It doesn’t get better than Death Valley. Any games — night, day game — those guys are rooting for us all the way and they have our back until the clock says zero.”
Saturday’s game will be Texas A&M’s first away from home since Oct. 12. They go into the contest with a 10-game road winning streak, the Aggies’ longest since they won 11 away from College Station in 1939-40. The Aggies haven’t lost on the road since a 53-50 defeat in four overtimes at Kansas State on Nov. 12, 2011.
Receiver Travis Labhart knows that LSU is one of the toughest places to play in the country, but he and his teammates like the challenge of facing a hostile crowd.
“They’re rowdy,” he said. “They do a great job of backing their team, and we have the mentality of going in and taking their crowd out of the game, starting fast and getting back to what we’ve been missing the last few weeks. I’m excited to get to go down there.”
Next season the Tigers will replace Texas A&M’s greatest rival, Texas, when the teams meet on Thanksgiving at Kyle Field. The Aggies played Texas for years on Thanksgiving as part of a more than century-old rivalry.
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