COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The LSU football team was short four injured starters Thursday night for its regular-season finale at Texas A&M.
The Tigers were also on a short week, just five days removed from a gut-wrenching, six-point home loss to Florida that ended one agonizing yard shy of a game-winning touchdown.
The thing that mattered most Thursday night: They weren’t short on determination.
Playing without running back Leonard Fournette and wide receiver Travin Dural on offense and linebackers Kendell Beckwith and Arden Key on defense, No. 25 LSU capped a tumultuous regular season with a satisfying 54-39 beatdown of No. 22 Texas A&M at Kyle Field.
In doing so, LSU (7-4, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) bolstered its postseason résumé and perhaps fortified the chances of interim coach Ed Orgeron getting the job on a permanent basis, even though there were reports before and during the game that Houston’s Tom Herman is now a leading candidate for the job.
Running back Derrius Guice, who started with Fournette back home nursing an ankle injury, produced scoring runs of 45, 45, 6 and 1 yards — the last three in the second half — as LSU piled up 622 total yards against Texas A&M and former Tigers defensive coordinator John Chavis.
“It was a nice response to a tough loss last week. … It was a short week,” quarterback Danny Etling said. “The coaches did a great job putting together a game plan, and I think we did a great job going out there an executing.”
They certainly did.
Guice erupted for a school-record 285 yards, and Etling threw for a pair of touchdowns and 324 yards, the most in a Tigers uniform, to overpower A&M (8-4, 4-4).
After running the wrong way on the game’s final play against Florida and watching the Gators escape with a win when he was stuffed short of the goal line, the performance was sweet redemption for the Baton Rouge native and former Catholic High School star.
“You can’t let one play in a game define me,” Guice said. “You see what I can do, and you saw it tonight.”
On his 37th and final carry of the night, with 1:58 left, Guice surpassed the school’s single-game rushing mark of 284 yards set by Fournette on Oct. 22 against Ole Miss — a record that lasted all of 33 days.
Guice’s rushing total was the most ever against A&M. The previous high was 283 yards by Texas’ Cedric Benson back in 2003.
“The whole team did a great job of setting it up for me,” Guice said of his second 250-yard rushing game in just 13 days after he punished Arkansas for 252 on Nov. 12. “The receivers blocking downfield. The O line. Danny getting the call to me. … The fullback setting everything up.”
Guice and Etling combined for a bit of history: It was the first time in the program’s 124 years that the Tigers had a 200-yard rusher and a 300-yard passer in the same game.
Also, their 54 points was their most in an SEC road game since a 59-26 rout of Mississippi State on Oct. 5, 2013, and the highest-scoring game against Chavis since his messy departure from LSU following the 2014 season.
It was LSU’s sixth consecutive win against Texas A&M and fifth in a row since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012.
LSU did enough on offense in the first half, while its stingy defense kept Texas A&M at bay after the Aggies scored a touchdown on their second possession.
The Tigers scored early and late in the first half when Guice raced to the end zone on a weaving 45-yard run to cap their first series.
On the play, Guice went over the 1,000-yard mark; he finished the game with 1,249 for the season.
After A&M tied it on a 36-yard scoring pass from Trevor Knight to receiver Christian Kirk, Colby Delahoussaye kicked field goals of 23 and 32 yards when LSU’s offense bogged down on back-to-back visits to the red zone.
While that was also a common problem in LSU’s 16-10 loss to Florida, the defense helped out late in the first half when linebacker Devin White stripped Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams of the ball and White recovered with 43 seconds to play before halftime.
The Tigers needed just two plays to make the Aggies pay.
After an incompletion on first down, Etling dropped back and laid a perfect 20-yard scoring pass into the hands of receiver Malachi Dupre in the back of the end zone for a 20-7 lead with 32 seconds remaining in the first half.
Etling hit on 12 of 18 attempts for 156 yards in the first half, then shredded the Aggies defense by going 8-of-9 for 168 yards in the second half.
All told, he was 20 of 27 for 324 yards with two TDs and no interceptions.
“I thought we were rolling on all cylinders,” Etling said. “Guys were making great plays, and we had great blocking up front. When you get those guys going, it’s tough to stop.”
While he doesn’t know what his future holds, Orgeron, who led LSU to a 5-2 record after replacing Les Miles on Sept. 25, knew one thing late Thursday night.
“We wanted to finish strong,” he said. “We bounced back as a team.”
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — For the first time in three seasons, the brightest star on LSU’s si…