COLLEGE STATION, Texas — LSU added a new running back to its stable: Anthony Jennings.
The sophomore quarterback ran for a career-high 119 yards, and cornerback Jalen Collins had a game-clinching interception as the Tigers beat Texas A&M 23-17 on Thanksgiving night in a wild finish at Kyle Field.
LSU (8-4, 4-4 Southeastern Conference) capped a bumpy season with a riveting road win to avoid its first three-game losing skid since 1999 and beat the Aggies (7-5, 3-5) for the fourth straight time.
Jennings averaged 8 yards a carry, and he ran for the most yards by an LSU quarterback since 2010. He became only the eighth quarterback in LSU history to rush for at least 100 yards in a game, using designed runs on most of his 14 rushes.
“I think we had more balance on offense, and this was one of my best games I’ve played, minus a few mistakes on my part,” Jennings said. “The offensive line did a great job of run-blocking. We made great reads.”
Freshman running back Leonard Fournette had 146 yards, and the Tigers rolled up the most rushing yards — 384 — in an SEC game since 1997.
Collins picked off A&M quarterback Kyle Allen inside the LSU 20-yard line with 1 minute, 21 seconds left, securing a victory that might propel LSU to a higher-tier bowl next month and keep the Tigers out of the SEC West basement.
The defense’s last stand was a fitting end.
LSU’s defense forced four three-and-outs midway through the game and held a pass-happy, explosive offense to just 228 yards.
Allen, a true freshman, threw for only 144 yards, and A&M was just 4-of-11 on third down — and the last shortfall hurt the most.
Allen’s intercepted deep pass came on third-and-10 from the A&M 49-yard line and involved some controversy. Aggies players and coaches ran onto the field berating officials for not calling LSU offside on the play.
A&M players said Allen heaved the pass up because he thought it was a free play. Replays appeared to show LSU defensive lineman Sione Teuhema’s helmet in the neutral zone at the snap, but coach Les Miles shot that down.
“He was not in the neutral zone,” Miles said.
“When we have someone in the neutral zone, our center snaps it and we have a free play,” A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said.
Playing on Thanksgiving for the first time in 31 years, the Tigers gashed the Aggies on the ground and stifled them through the air — the key units for both teams.
LSU outgained A&M 491-228 and possessed the ball for 41 minutes of the 60-minute game.
Jennings ran wild on the Aggies.
The much-maligned sophomore quarterback had five runs for more than 10 yards and never lost yards on his designed runs. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron implemented more runs for the QB against an Aggies defense that entered ranked 104th nationally.
“I thought Cam Cameron did a nice job with some of the new wrinkles on offense,” Miles said. “It’s nice to go into the holidays with a win. I think we will be ready for the bowl.”
But where to? The Taxslayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, is a real possibility now, and so are a group of others including the Texas Bowl in Houston, the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennnessee, and the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tennessee.
“Coming off two hard, physical games that we lost, to finish off the game strong and the season strong and going into the bowl game with a win is a big confidence for us,” defensive tackle Christian LaCouture said, “and we are really excited about that.”
Colby Delahoussaye, yanked early in the game after a miss in the first quarter, made a 43-yard field goal with 2:07 left to make it 23-17.
A&M started its march at its 25 with 2:07 left. Back-to-back 12-yard completions had the Aggies near midfield before Tre’Davious White and Rickey Jefferson had good coverage on consecutive passes to force Allen and A&M into third-and-10.
That’s when the interception came.
“I said, ‘No way we were giving up a touchdown at the end,’ ” linebacker Kendell Beckwith said. “We knew we had to stop them.”
LSU led 20-7 heading into the fourth quarter before two scoring drives from A&M — a field goal and then a 27-yard touchdown pass. Speedy Noil, a New Orleans native, made the TD grab over White at the goal line to pull the Aggies within 20-17 with 6:42 left, making a tense ending to what seemed like could be a blowout.
LSU’s defense stifled A&M for a massive stretch starting early in the first quarter until the third quarter.
During that span, the Aggies had four three-and-outs and fumbled a kickoff. They had just 27 yards on a total of 13 plays against a swarming Tigers defense that played for much of the game without defensive end Danielle Hunter, who suffered neck spasms and exited early.
Miles said his defense played “awfully well.”
His offense didn’t play bad, either.
LSU scored on four straight possessions, starting with a touchdown drive midway through the second quarter. Fournette capped the 50-yard drive with a rocking 22-yard touchdown run.
The freshman sliced through a gaping hole, lowered his shoulder and bulled over A&M safety Howard Matthews in a play similar to the famous TD run by Herschel Walker in a 1980 game against Tennessee.
The Tigers then followed an Aggies three-and-out with a nine-play, 73-yard drive, capped by Jennings’ 10-yard touchdown pass to receiver John Diarse. LSU added field goals of 31 and 27 yards from walk-on sophomore Domingue to grab that 20-7 lead, and then the Tigers barely hung on.
“I think our football team has a lot of character,” Miles said, “and they have worked really hard to get to this point.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv. For more coverage of LSU football, read our Tiger Tracks blog at blogs.theadvocate.com/tigertracks