Flair for the dramatic: Quarterback Jayden Daniels rallies No. 14 LSU past Texas A&M in second half, 42-30

Tigers conclude regular season with 9-3 record, await bowl berth

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) was named both the All-Louisiana quarterback and Offensive MVP this season. PHOTO BY: Michael Bacigalupi

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels authored a comeback in his final home appearance that may prove Heisman worthy.

Daniels, one of 16 seniors honored beforehand, led the No. 14 Tigers from a 10-point deficit in the second half to a 42-30 victory Saturday over Texas A&M in Southeastern Conference action before a crowd of 101, 178 at Tiger Stadium.

“Most definitely I do,” Daniels said when asked whether his performance of 350 total yards four passing TDs would be enough to win the Heisman Trophy. “Obviously, we’ve got to see what other guys do, but I think I want to make my case to get invited out there.”

LSU (9-3, 6-2) completed a perfect 7-0 showing at Tiger Stadium that didn’t gain clarity until the fourth quarter. The Tigers will await their postseason destination when the pairings are announced Dec. 3.

“I’m really proud of our coaches, really proud of our football team to come back and get a victory, ” LSU football coach Brian Kelly, “get nine wins and have a chance for 10 again, which is an important milestone for us.”

The Tigers finally got their nation’s leading offense untrack with 195 of their 389 total yards in the final 15 minutes with Daniels passing for 235 yards and three of his four touchdowns during a 21-0 run.

“It was a very talented team,” Daniels said of A&M’s defense, the No. 1 ranked unit in the Southeastern Conference. “Obviously, the record doesn’t show it, but they have good players, too. So, for us it was like staying the course. We’re going to have ups and downs and you’re going to have adversity. We really just had to go out there and start clicking.”

LSU’s most pivotal part of the game – a 21-0 stretch – began with a key fourth-down conversion with just under 10 minutes left in the third quarter. Kelly opted to keep his offense on the field, facing a fourth-and-four from his own 47-yard line, and Daniels scrambled for 49 yards to A&M’s 4-yard line which led to Josh Williams’ 1-yard plunge.

“I felt it was necessary at that point, that we needed to convert in that situation,” Kelly said. “I was trying to get the attention of the offense, but our special teams coach was halfway down the field. So, I had to get him off the field because there was no way in that situation, we were going to give the football up.”

Linebacker Greg Penn III provided the defense’s first big moment, recording his second interception of the season with 12:51 remaining in the game. He picked off A&M quarterback Jaylen Henderson over the middle on third-and-seven at LSU’s 39 with 12:51 left in the game.

“They ran the same concept a lot that I have seen on film,” Penn said. “Basically, just trying to bait me and jump that underneath route. I basically just baited the quarterback, stayed deep and he threw me one, so I made the play.”

LSU wiped out its 10-point deficit to grab a 28-24 lead with 11:23 to play on Daniels’ 23-yard TD pass to Brian Thomas Jr. in the right corner of the end zone.

Daniels completed three straight passes on the go-ahead drive, finding Thomas for 13 yards the first play, Chris Hilton Jr. for 25 on the second play. Daniels then lofted a pass toward the right corner of the end zone for the 6-foot-3 Thomas who went over A&M cornerback Sam McCall for the reception.

The athleticism of LSU’s wide receivers was on full display during all three of Daniels’ touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.

Following the scoring pass to Thomas near the corner of the end zone, LSU’s defense forced a punt following Da’Shawn Womack’s sack of Henderson, and Daniels had the Tigers back in the end zone in four plays. His first-down pass to the outside shoulder of Malik Nabers, who turned his body toward the sideline and got his right foot in bounds, resulted in a 21-yard TD after a booth review for a 35-24 lead with 8:25 showing.

Earlier on the drive Nabers became the school’s career leader in receptions with 184 following a 20-yard catch from Daniels on the first play of the drive.

“I really never paid attention to the receptions; I was working on the receiving yards,” Nabers said. “But it’s one record down, one more to chase. I’m still going to break it.”

Texas A&M (7-5, 4-4) momentarily stopped LSU’s onslaught to pull within five points (35-30) with 7:20 to play on Henderson’s 51-yard TD pass to Max Wright. He was unable to complete a two-point conversion.

LSU, which was outgained 390-389 in total yards, put the game out of reach when Daniels led a 7-play, 75-yard drive that lasted just over three minutes. He threw a TD to his third different receiver with Kyren Lacy making an adjustment to a ball thrown toward his outside shoulder for a 15-yard TD that accounted for the final score with 4:19 left.

It was the third time this season A&M, which led LSU 17-14 at halftime, lost an SEC game after leading Alabama and Tennessee at the break. The Aggies also lost to Ole Miss in a game they led in the second half.

“He’s a dynamic player and he’s up for the Heisman for a reason,” A&M interim coach Elijah Robinson said of Daniels. “At any given point he can make a play and he did. He has a great supporting cast around him with the running and passing game with those receivers he has. I think our guys were in good position, but they are just really good players, and they made the play.”

Daniels completed 16 of 24 passes for 235 yards and four TDs, giving him 40 passing TDs on the season. He also added 120 yards on 11 carries. Nabers topped the Tigers with six catches for 122 yards and 2 TDs and Thomas added five grabs for 58 yards and a score.

“My confidence is out of the roof with them,” Daniels said of receiving corps. “It was something we worked on the whole offseason, just building that trust with each other. For all three of them to score in the last regular season home game, it means a lot to me.”

A&M’s ball-controlled approach was especially effective on third down and helped the Aggie take a 17-14 lead into halftime.

A&M, which held a nine-minute advantage in time of possession, regained the lead with 14 seconds to go right before the break when Henderson hit tight end Jake Johnson for a 14-yard touchdown on third-and-three. The Aggies converted three times on third down and once on fourth-and-one to complete the 78-yard drive in just under five minutes.

Henderson, the team’s third different starting QB this season because of injuries, wound up 25 of 35 for 294 yards with an interception and two TDs.  

LSU took a 7-0 lead on its second series with Daniels accounting for 58 of the team’s 60 yards. His 21-yard scramble on second-and-seven was a key play to A&M’s 8 and three plays later, Williams barreled in from a yard out.

A&M responded with 10 points on its next two possessions – a touchdown and field goal that consumed more than 13 minutes – for a 10-7 lead on Randy Bond’s 48-yarder at the 8:17 mark of the second quarter.

The lead changed hands twice over the final five minutes of the half with LSU gaining a 14-10 lead on Daniels’ 6-yard TD pass to Nabers. It was Daniels’ 23-yard scramble on first-and-20 that was a catalyst on the drive and Nabers added an 11-yard reception.

A&M scored on its second double-digit drive (13 plays) of the half, twice converting on third downs to keep march alive. The Aggies turned to running back Le’Veon Moss for a 2-yard gain on fourth-and-one and Henderson found Johnson, the brother of former LSU quarterback Max Johnson, for a 14-yard score, setting the stage for a dramatic LSU comeback.

“It was a big game,” Penn said. “I think the defense stepped up in a big way during the game. We were just flying around. I feel like in the second half after that first drive, we just came out and refused to lose.”

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