John Diarse had his man beat.
The sophomore receiver took a step to the inside before redirecting his route and running right past the cornerback’s outside shoulder. LSU was primed to turn a fumble recovery inside the red zone into a touchdown and put Texas A&M in an early two-score hole Saturday night.
But Diarse never had a chance to catch the ball. The errant throw from sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris went sailing over his head, forcing the Tigers to settle for their second field goal of the game.
Those were recurring problems for LSU all night, though it pulled out a 19-7 win against the Aggies (8-4, 4-4 Southeastern Conference) in Tiger Stadium. A dysfunctional passing game and squandered opportunities marred the team’s regular season finale, in which Harris finished 7-of-21 for 83 yards and a passer rating of 57.0.
Harris’ numbers have regressed starting with LSU’s loss to Alabama on Nov. 7. The sophomore threw for more than 200 yards and multiple touchdowns in each of the three games before the loss.
“Up to game seven , I thought he was magnificent,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “There seemed to be a pause, and we just haven’t quite got him back on track. There’s work to do there.”
The Tigers (8-3, 5-3) got off to a fast start, something they failed to do over their three-game losing streak. They kicked a field goal on their first drive, recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and turned that into another field goal after Harris’ misfire to Diarse.
The momentum didn’t last long.
LSU’s next four first-half drives resulted in two three-and-outs and a pair of missed field goals: attempts of 25 and 50 yards from junior Trent Domingue. The Tigers were in the red zone on three of their first four possessions but came away with only six points.
“The game itself was an imperfect fistfight,”Miles said.
Domingue, who has missed three of his past seven field goals after starting the season 10-of-10, missed a 46-yarder to cap LSU’s first drive of the second half. The whiff came after true freshman Derrius Guice ripped off a dazzling kickoff return to the Aggies’ 25-yard line
Guice later gave his team the lead on a 50-yard touchdown scamper, but the Tigers didn’t manage much else beside that. Harris and the passing game struggled from the start as Harris completed only two of 10 first-quarter passes.
Sophomore receiver Malachi Dupre, the Tigers’ leading receiver this season, couldn’t put his finger on why LSU’s passing game is mired in inconsistency.
“I know we did a good enough job to get the victory tonight,” Dupre said. “I’m not trying to focus on how good or bad we did passing the football.”
Harris had Dupre streaking wide open across the field on a flea-flicker early in the game only to miss his target again. He went into halftime with four completions on 17 attempts as the offense remained one-dimensional.
“I just want you to know that’s not good enough,” Miles said. “I know those passes. Those are good passes. We have to improve.”
Nursing a six-point lead late in the third quarter, Harris threw an interception while scrambling from the pocket. Dupre was the only receiver to catch a pass — he had just two receptions — and sophomore running back Leonard Fournette was the leading pass-catcher with four grabs.