With so much to play for sixth-ranked LSU didn’t look the part of College Football Playoff contender.
The Tigers will still represent the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division in next week’s SEC Championship Game, but they’ll have to do so after picking up the pieces from Saturday’s 38-23 loss at Texas A&M before a crowd of 93,578 at Kyle Field.
“Our players understand each and every week this league is going to challenge you,” LSU football coach Brian Kelly said. “We were challenged by a Texas A&M team that played very well today. Their players made plays. We didn’t make some of the plays we normally make. We just weren’t our best today.
“I’d like to give you a reason why we weren’t at our best today,” Kelly added. “But we just weren’t at our best. We needed to be better. I don’t want to minimize it. We’re very disappointed. We very much wanted to finish strong and that didn’t happen.”
Texas A&M running back Devon Achane, a reported game time decision after missing his last two games with an injury, powered the Aggies (5-7, 2-6) with a career-high 215 yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries. He was part of a ground game that produced 270 yards on 49 attempts.
A&M, which outgained LSU 425 to 384, scored a season-high number of points against an FBS opponent. The Tigers allowed a season-high rushing yards to an opponent averaging 127 rushing yards a game.
“We didn’t do our job as coaches, we didn’t do our job as players,” Kelly said of his defense. “We didn’t do our job today.”
LSU (9-3, 6-2) had its five-game winning streak snapped but will travel to Atlanta for next Saturday’s SEC title game against No. 1 Georgia at 3 p.m.
Quarterback Jayden Daniels, who battled through an ankle injury to finish the game, accounted for 273 of hits team’s total yards but wasn’t involved in any of the team’s touchdowns. He completed 21 of 35 passes for 189 yards and rushed 12 times for 84 yards. Senior running back John Emery Jr. had nine attempts for 55 yards and scored a season-high three touchdowns.
LSU was ranked fifth in the latest CFP rankings and was considered a candidate to move into the top four after previously undefeated and second-ranked Ohio State lost earlier in the day to unbeaten and third-ranked Michigan.
A&M severely dimmed LSU’s hopes by leading 17-10 at halftime and snapping a 17-all tie with a stretch of three unanswered touchdowns in the second half, opening a commanding 38-17 cushion with 7:46 left to play.
Freshman quarterback Conner Weigman threw for 155 yards (12 of 18 passing) for two touchdowns to complement Achane’s output.
“We haven’t gotten the results we wanted,” Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Adversity reveals your character and our kids, no matter what the circumstance, practiced hard every day. We came to play every day with a lot of character. I’m happy for those seniors to send them out right. Hopefully we can now understand and get the results we want.”
LSU had apparently gotten back into the game on its first series of the third quarter.
After the defense forced its first punt, the Tigers went 71 yards in nine plays with Emery scoring on a 19-yard run up the middle that made it 17-17 with 9:40 showing on the clock.
LSU got the ball back and faced a third-and-one when Daniels kept on a zone-read play and was stripped by linebacker Edgerrin Cooper, leading to Covington High graduate Demani Richardson’s second scoop-and-score of the season – a 30-yard effort at the 7:03 mark – that put the Aggies ahead for good at 24-17.
“We came out in the second half, got a couple of stops and scored,” Kelly said. “I think we got the thing back in order and it was one of those things where you wish you could have done it (Daniels’ keeper) all over again instead of that situation. But it is what it is. The ball comes out. It’s a huge play and I don’t know if we recovered from it.”
That sequence generated a 21-0 run for A&M which took a 38-17 lead with 7:46 remaining on Achane’s 10-yard scoring run. Weigman then connected on a 21-yard TD pass to Moose Muhammed who made a one-handed grab against LSU’s Sage Ryan on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The return of Achane to A&M’s offense provided the Aggies with a lift that resulted in a 17-10 halftime lead.
Weigman kept on the go-ahead drive late in the second quarter with a 12-yard scramble on third down and got the ball to freshman Evan Stewart thereafter for a 12-yard gain. Achane bounced a play outside toward the right sideline, broke four tackles for a 17-yard gain to LSU’s 4.
Two plays resulted in no gain when Weigman got enough time for tight end Donovan Green to drag across the field and haul in a 4-yard scoring pass with 1:10 left before halftime.
LSU picked up two first downs and used a timeout on its final series of the half but had to punt from A&M’s 48 on fourth-and-seven.
A&M gave LSU an early indication of Achane’s health when he carried on nine of his team’s opening 15-play, 90-yard drive for 54 yards.
Weigman also completed all five of his pass attempts for 36 yards, all on third down, and Achane scored on a 10-yard run to his left on first-and-goal. He stepped inside of LSU defender Joe Foucha to complete the scoring play for a 7-0 lead at the 4:54 mark of the first quarter.
LSU answered with a 13-play, 75-yard drive that was kept alive when offensive tackle Emery Jones Jr. alertly recovered a fumble.
The Tigers benefitted from a defensive pass interference penalty on second-and-seven and took advantage when Jones pounced on a loose ball at A&M’s 38 after the ball was jarred loose from running back Noah Cain when he took a hard hit.
Daniels also had a say in the drive with a 16-yard keeper – his longest of the half – to A&M’s 4 and Emery scored on the next play. He was originally ruled short of the goal line, but the play was overturned following a booth review and the Tigers were tied at 7-7 at the 14-minute mark of the second quarter.
The game remained tied when LSU answered a 25-yard field goal from Randy Bond with a 35-yarder from Damian Ramos with 5:30 left before halftime.
“For some reason we were off today,” Kelly said. “My job is to get this team prepared and I didn’t get them prepared the way they needed today. I’m disappointed in that.”
With the young talent Jimbo Fisher has amassed, LSU may not beat A&M for the next three or four years. He has been lambasted all year but will get the last laugh starting next season.
I actually don’t want LSU to beat Georgia next Saturday. That would give the SEC no team in the CFP or, worse, have Alabama replace Georgia.
If this scenario takes place when the 12-team playoff goes into effect, LSU might still have a chance to be in that number, which would be ridiculous for a three-loss team. College football has had the best regular season of any sport. But that won’t be the case with a 12-team playoff.