There were times Saturday night when you had to wonder whether the LSU Tigers learned anything about the fragility of a 20-0 lead.
LSU stormed back from such a frightful deficit against Auburn back in October, pulling out a 27-23 Tiger Stadium thriller. Same field six weeks later, and LSU strolled to a 20-0 first-half lead on Texas A&M.
Just like Auburn, which was cheered heartily here by the early arrivals as they watched its 26-14 Iron Bowl win over Alabama on one of Tiger Stadium’s video replay boards, LSU decided a three-touchdown lead and utter domination was simply not sporting.
So the Tigers started doing their best to pry open a previously welded-shut door for the Aggies. They missed more field goals, and changed kickers again at halftime. They committed penalties. They bled in the red zone, touchdowns eluding their grasp.
The Aggies scored just before halftime to make it 20-7 after all-everything A&M receiver Christian Kirk finally got uncorked for a 31-yard reception to the 2. Then — Presto! — the Tigers and Aggies started trading touchdowns in the third quarter: 20-14 … 27-14 … 27-21. It looked like a replay of LSU’s 54-39 win in College Station last year when the Tigers scored and scored but couldn’t quite stem the Aggies’ offense until the clock hit zero.
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Just as soon as it started, though, the Tigers had enough of the thrust and parry, enough of being a hospitable Thanksgiving weekend host. Fortunately for LSU, the Aggies were in just as accommodating a mood. They vacillated from looking like they were playing for their coach, the embattled Kevin Sumlin, to playing for their next coach, the Santa Claus of holiday hopes in Aggieland, current Florida State coach and one-time LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher.
The Nick Starkel-to-Kirk touchdown pass to make it 27-21 was the last hurrah for Texas A&M. Danny Etling threw a 10-yard touchdown pass on a well-conceived pass in the left flat to J.D. Moore, then a 77-yard Wildcat scamper by Darrel Williams set up a 6-yard Etling-to-DJ Chark touchdown pass. A 2-point Etling-to-Foster Moreau shovel pass made it 42-21 LSU with 13:18 remaining en route to a 45-21 victory.
Sanity restored, everyone could get back to the business of what they expected to see Saturday night: LSU winning its seventh straight against the Aggies, sixth against A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, with Sumlin expected to find the locks changed on his office door when he returns to College Station, Texas.
Four SEC coaches have been dismissed this season, and LSU has beaten all their schools: Ole Miss (Hugh Freeze), Florida (Jim McElwain), Tennessee (Butch Jones) and Arkansas (Bret Bielema). The Tigers are likely to get one for the thumb before the weekend is out. If so, it’ll be the biggest coaching carnage in the SEC since five coaches lost their jobs in 1945, according to ESPN.
Whoever gets those jobs, it will be LSU coach Ed Orgeron’s task to beat them.
There are many for whom the jury is still out on Coach O, and that’s fine. He won’t make anyone forget his three failed years at Ole Miss overnight. But credit is due for bailing out what looked like a sinking Tiger ship at the end of September after humiliating losses to Mississippi State and Troy. LSU finished 6-2 in SEC play — with five conference road games, no less — for the first time since 2012.
“After the Troy game, I couldn’t think but one second at a time,” Orgeron said when asked whether he thought then a nine-win season was possible. “I knew we could get the team together, fix the things we could fix. After looking back at all we went through, it’s a remarkable feat by our team and our coaching staff.”
The Tigers prepare for their bowl destination with a chance to win 10 games for the first time since 2013. That's not the kind of achievement LSU has celebrated this century, but it is a potential building block on the way back from last year’s Les Miles firing.
Up until Saturday night, Donte Jackson didn’t have an interception to his name this season.
“We made some mistakes, obviously,” Orgeron said, “but the goal was to win nine games with a chance to go to an outstanding bowl and win 10 games.”
And which bowl for the Tigers? While LSU was fending off A&M, South Carolina was getting hammered 34-10 by Clemson. The Gamecocks fell to 8-4, as did Mississippi State on Thanksgiving night. If three SEC teams get into the CFP semifinals/bowls, a prospect that appears more likely after Auburn’s Iron Bowl win, LSU could well be headed back to the Citrus Bowl for an unlikely repeat performance.
All in all, a remarkable feat, indeed.