If LSU-Texas A&M didn’t feel like a real college football rivalry before Saturday night’s kickoff between the two programs, it sure did after the Aggies escaped with a 74-72 win, their first against the Tigers since joining the Southeastern Conference.
There were controversial calls that led to bad blood surfacing everywhere from online to on the field as LSU director of player development and former Tigers running back Kevin Faulk got into a physical altercation with who appeared to be a Texas A&M staffer after he allegedly struck LSU analyst Steve Kragthorpe.
There was an immense amount of baggage to unpack after what became what many are calling the game of the year.
That loss will prove to be a bitter pill to swallow for LSU athletes, coaches and fans alike.
Several times it looked as though the Tigers had sealed the game. First, the interception by Grant Delpit that got called back due to Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond’s knee hitting the ground after a bad snap.
Then it was a questionable spike of the clock with a second left during which one could argue the Aggies weren’t properly lined up.
It looked as though Delpit put the game away again in the first overtime period as he jarred the ball lose from Aggies tight end Jace Sternberger.
A litany of late calls went Texas A&M’s ways, and that’s undoubtedly frustrating for anyone sporting purple and gold Saturday night.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, especially when even some national media members like Tim Brando are saying the Tigers got hosed.
But perhaps even more frustrating is the fact the Tigers still should have won despite that.
LSU could have arguably put the game away early in the fourth quarter were it not for a Jonathan Giles muffed punt that shifted momentum back in the Aggies’ favor just as the Tigers looked poised to take control.
And that’s far from the only mistake LSU made that could have prevented this heartbreaking loss.
The Tigers had multiple chances to put the game away in overtime, but the defense – surprisingly, mostly the secondary – couldn’t get a stop when necessary.
The offense also turned conservative in overtime period No. 4 with first and goal in a situation in which a touchdown would win the game.
Three consecutive rushing plays couldn’t put the Tigers in the end zone, and instead they had to settle for a field goal to force a fifth overtime.
Those are just a couple examples in a game that seemed to defy all conventional logic. Heck, even Cole Tracy, LSU’s sure-footed senior kicker, doinked a field goal in regulation.
If you had told anybody paying attention to LSU’s season that they’d score 31 points in regulation against the Aggies, they probably would have thought the Tigers won handily.
LSU’s offense looked as proficient as it has all season.
Joe Burrow completed 25 of 38 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns as he hit 11 different receivers, and he ran for 110 yards and three more touchdowns on 29 (yes, you read that correctly) carries.
Despite struggling at times to get the run game going, the Tigers averaged 4.2 yards per carry and scored four times on the ground.
But as the game continued the more Mond began to look comfortable and poised in the pocket. He made the Tigers pay multiple times late in regulation and in overtime, and in the end it was his dart to Kendrick Rogers that put the game away.
Putting a loss like that – one in which it seems you should have won so many times over – behind you seems borderline impossible, but that’s what LSU coach Ed Orgeron will be tasked with over the next weeks.
The good news is he has plenty of time to get the Tigers in the proper mindset before they play in whatever bowl game they now land in.
The other good news is the fact that this loss doesn’t take away from the fact that he coached this LSU squad to an overachieving season.
The Tigers entered the season expected to finish as a middling team in the SEC with a cap of seven or eight wins.
Instead, they won nine games and very well could have won 10 with two tough losses to Texas A&M and Florida on the road.
LSU housed Miami, upset Auburn (at the time, anyway) and throttled Georgia during a season before which many people had those games sharpied as losses.
Now is when that ever-famous “24 hour rule” that virtually every team, including LSU, implements becomes most important.
The Tigers still have a lot to play for. That 10th win may not have come in the regular season, but LSU has a chance to shake off this loss to the Aggies and get to that double-digit goal, likely in late December instead of New Years Day.
It’s not what LSU wanted, but it’s what it has in front of it now. Next week, the Tigers will sit at home and watch championship week for their couches, hopefully while planning on how they can get themselves in the SEC Championship Game next year.
So don’t let this loss ruin the season. LSU outperformed even the highest of expectations set for them outside the program.
And even though the Tigers may not have reached the goals they set for themselves, they have plenty to be proud of.
This is a program that looks to be heading in the right direction under Orgeron, something a lot of people didn’t think was possible when LSU promoted him to full-time head coach prior to last season.
The Tigers were a good team in 2018, and they’re a couple pieces away from becoming a great team in the future.