- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Like many of his coaching peers, Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin is likes to emphasize two statistical areas with his football team when it comes to the difference between winning and losing: third-down conversions and turnover margin.
It's the latter that bit the Aggies badly when they hosted LSU in 2012.
While there has been one game in the Sumlin era where the Aggies committed more turnovers than the five they did against LSU last October, the turnover ratio was at its worst against the Tigers, who committed none that day.
Reducing those could have certainly made a difference in the Aggies' 24-19 home loss. So it's, of course, a point of emphasis as they prepare to head into Death Valley.
"Whenever we play, we put a premium on not just turnovers but turnover ratio," Sumlin said. "To win the game, we talk about turnover margin. If we have two or three, we need to get four or five."
The Aggies are plus-two this season in that category, even with a rough day like the one they had against Vanderbilt, losing the battle 5-3, earlier this season. It's especially important against a team the caliber of LSU, in an environment like the one harbored in Tiger Stadium. Offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said earlier this season that the team practices ball security every day.
"We have to protect the ball, and the team that protects the ball has a good chance to win," senior running back Ben Malena said. "We had a lot of turnovers last year but we also had a lot of series last year that we didn't turn into points. That's LSU, hat's off to their defense. But the turnovers didn't help."
Special teams is a key point when these teams play also. LSU has no problem taking some chances in that area, and the Tigers also have a talented playmaker in receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who's a force in the return game.
Sumlin said the Aggies will have to be on point on special teams.
"Odell Beckham has gotten loose on just about everybody," Sumlin said. "They've got a scheme and sometimes he says 'The heck with it' and just takes off. I've seen teams fit the right way and he just said 'I'm going to do my own thing.... He's exceptional. It's why he leads the league in all-purpose yardage.
The Aggies struggled in the kicking game last season against the Tigers, missing two field goals and a point-after-touchdown kick. While that part has been seemingly rectified in the second half of this season with a personnel change, being ready for what LSU has to throw at them in the third phase also is important.
"We've got to be on edge in all phases and paying particular attention to that," Sumlin said. "Other people have too and [Les Miles] has still been able to pull them off. So we'll be on edge the whole time. From the time we get off the bus, our special teams units have to have the hair on the back of their neck up looking for stuff to happen."