Not even LSU’s final offensive drive of the game that helped the Tigers avoid their first shutout in two years could provide much solace.
A loss – in this case a 20-7 setback in a Southeastern Conference Western Division clash – against fifth-ranked Texas A&M on a rainy Saturday evening in College Station only further added to an angst-filled season.
LSU (3-4) began the Murder’s Row portion of its schedule – a sequence featuring three consecutive Top 10-ranked teams – with a defense that showed vital signs but was instead confounded by an offense that flatlined.
“We had some spots in the game where we could have taken over,” said LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron, whose team still hasn’t won consecutive games this season. “Defense was playing well. We just couldn’t punch it in on offense.”
Texas A&M’s top-ranked SEC defense lived up to its billing, limiting LSU to 267 total yards on 72 plays. The Tigers went into their final drive with less than 200 yards, but true freshman quarterback Max Johnson (14 of 22, 113 yards) helped put together a 14-play, 81-yard drive that resulted in a 3-yard TD pass to Terrace Marshall Jr. (10 catches for 134 yards) with 38 seconds left.
Avery Atkins’ onside kickoff attempt was recovered by A&M’s Keldrick Carper at LSU’s 43.
“You’re not going to win minus-three on the road in turnovers,” said Orgeron, whose team suffered a pair of interceptions and lost a fumble. “We’ve got to take better care of the football. We’ve got a lot young players out there. They’ve just got to learn how to play. We’ve just got to keep fighting.”
Texas A&M (6-1) – winners of five straight – maintained its hopes of qualifying for postseason play in the College Football Playoff after they were ranked fifth in last week’s initial poll.
The Aggies’ defense yielded 36 yards rushing on 25 carries, returned one of Tigers starting quarterback T.J. Finley’s two interceptions for a touchdown to make it 20-0 with 4:36 showing in the third quarter.
A&M unleashed its share of blitzes for three sacks against Johnson for minus-22 yards. They also registered five tackles for loss.
“It all starts up front with blocking,” Orgeron said. “There was no room for us to run the football. I think we’ve got to call better plays. I think we’ve got to have a better plan. I was really disappointed in our plan and our execution.”
LSU’s defense only permitted one offensive touchdown – the result of A&M’s biggest explosive play from scrimmage – and wound up yielding 267 total yards on 71 plays. Senior quarterback Kellen Mond was 11 of 34 for 105 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.
The Aggies relied on the rushing of running back Isaiah Spiller, whose 52-yard TD sprint near the end of the first quarter helped account for his game-high 141 yards on 27 carries.
The two teams, who combined on 14 three-and-outs, punted a total of 23 times – 11 from LSU’s Zach Von Rosenberg for a 40.2-yard average.
“We’re going to keep fighting and get better,” LSU linebacker Micah Baskerville, who led the Tigers with 12 tackles and Cordale Flott eight.
LSU appeared to have its first swing of momentum early in the second quarter with Texas A&M poised to extend its 10-0 lead.
The Aggies, on the strength of Spiller’s 32-yard burst, eventually set up a fourth-and-one from LSU’s 6-yard line when Mond attempted to dive for a first down. He was met at the line of scrimmage by Baskerville, who knocked the ball loose which resulted in a six-yard loss and a change of possession at 9:37 mark.
“We worked on that play all week,” Baskerville said. “We put big emphasis on it. That was a big energy boost for the team.”
LSU’s offense gained 54 of its 135 first-half yards when Marshall turned a short reception from Finley into a 54-yard gain to A&M’s 31-yard line.
In an attempt to try and seize additional momentum Finley lofted a ball on a fade route which true freshman wide receiver Kayshon Boutte high-pointed near the goal line, came down with his right foot in bounds and inside the pylon which was initially ruled a touchdown.
Instead of trailing 10-7 at that point, the play was overturned following a review and on the next play Finley was rushed and his pass attempt tipped by A&M’s Demani Richardson and intercepted by a diving Jaylon Jones with 9:03 showing.
“I thought he had it when the ball crossed the goal line,” Orgeron said. “I thought he had possession, but they’re not going to listen to me anyway. Then we threw an interception. It was a big turnaround.”
LSU regained possession in A&M territory following a short punt and the Tigers reached the Aggies’ 16 after Finley completed a pass to tight end Kole Taylor, coupled with a personal foul penalty against Erick Young for a hit to Finley’s head.
However, the Tigers’ drive stalled and placekicker Cade York, who was 16 of 16 in his career from inside of 40 yards, missed on a 34-yard attempt line drive that went wide left with 3:48 to go.
A&M made it 13-0 on Seth Small’s 40-yard field goal going into halftime and for the second time this season Finley, who finished 9 of 25 for 118 yards, had an interception returned for a score.
Finley was in the pocket on second-and-10 from his own 9-yard line when he was pressured by A&M’s Aaron Hansford and his pass for Marshall sailed high and to Aggies’ linebacker Buddy Johnson, who returned it 15 yards to make it 20-0.
Finley’s pass under duress drew the ire of Orgeron who replaced him with Johnson for the final 19-plus minutes of the game.
“Very disappointed in the offense,” Orgeron said. “We didn’t have any rhythm. We couldn’t block them up front. They played well. Give them credit.”