LSU Texas A M Football

Texas A&M linebacker Andre White Jr. (32) sacks LSU quarterback Max Johnson (14) for a loss during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — This was a sloppy game, an ugly game, a tough-to-watch performance by two offenses that seemed to be as stuck as a two-door sedan in a muddy Texas highway ditch on Saturday's rain-soaked night.

Well, No. 5 Texas A&M (6-1) switched to their high-horsepower pickup truck in its 20-7 win over LSU (3-4) at Kyle Field: A throttling running back that broke the game open in the first half and a dominant defense that nearly handed LSU its first shutout loss in two seasons.

LSU's offense resembled the struggling units that plagued the program in the early years of the past decade.

Not even an alternating cast of quarterbacks could kick-start the Tigers into an offensive burst. Not even a timely defensive turnover. Not even a kicker who entered the game having made his only previous field goal attempt within 30-39 yards.

Once again, LSU's offense was exploited in the absence of injured starting quarterback Myles Brennan, who missed his fourth game because of an abdominal injury that will likely keep him out the rest of the season.

Once again, Brennan's replacement, TJ Finley, turned the ball over multiple times while being repeatedly pressured by an opposing pass rush.

Once again, LSU's offensive line was overwhelmed and could not produce a run game or protect its young passer.

"Very disappointed in the offense," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. "We didn't have any rhythm."

Texas A&M managed to build a 13-0 halftime lead in an excruciatingly long period that saw both teams go a combined 3-of-19 on third down opportunities. A much-improved LSU defense didn't surrender any points in the second half; the Aggies set the final score with a pick-six in the third quarter.

Texas A&M and LSU both gained 267 total offensive yards, but the Tigers were shut out in a half for the first time since losing 29-0 at home to Alabama in 2018.

Anyone who hasn't blocked that game from memory will know the Crimson Tide held the Tigers to a dismal 12 yards of total rushing.

Well, this year's Aggies did the same thing: LSU only totaled 36 yards rushing. Four rushers were stopped consistently, including quarterbacks TJ Finley and Max Johnson, whose dual-threat abilities were neutralized time and again.

Finley finished the game 9-of-25 passing for 118 yards with two interceptions, and Johnson, who was sacked three times, was 14-of-22 for 113 yards and a touchdown. 

Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko's top 10 rush defense clogged the running lanes and forced the true freshmen quarterbacks to beat the Aggies with their arms.

They could not do so.

Finley was heavily pressured by Texas A&M during his first three drives, and he managed to complete 5-of-8 passes for 32 yards. The yardage was only enough to pick up one first down, an 18-yard pass to Jaray Jenkins on the second play of the game. The promising drive ended at the Aggie 35, when Ty Davis-Price was stuffed short on a fourth-and-1 run.

Johnson then entered the game, and his two drives didn't produce any better. Aside from a 13-yard completion to Terrace Marshall, he threw an incompletion and a five-yard pass to Arik Gilbert that fell short of the first down. Johnson, heralded by Orgeron as a dual-threat runner, was bottled on quarterback runs of 2 yards, 1 yard, none.

"We should've had a better plan on offense," Orgeron said. "We couldn't run the ball. We couldn't protect."

Meanwhile, LSU's defensive effort resembled the beginning of the team's 27-24 win at Arkansas last week — an overall steady effort stained by a singular ugly play.

In fact, the goat-turned-hero of the Arkansas game — cornerback Jay Ward — started opposite Derek Stingley and helped the often troubled LSU secondary hold Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond 2-of-10 passing for 23 yards on the first four drives of the game.

A 26-yard run by Mond on a zone read, plus a late-hit penalty on LSU safety JaCoby Stevens produced the 41-yard field goal by Seth Small that gave the Aggies a 3-0 lead with 9:10 left in the first quarter.

Other than that, Texas A&M's early lead can be contributed to one play: a 52-yard touchdown run by Isaiah Spiller, which gave the Aggies a 10-0 lead with 16 seconds left in the first quarter.

The game could've gotten out of hand a lot earlier had it not been for linebacker Jabril Cox, who, on Texas A&M's next drive, knocked the football loose when Mond reached over the line of scrimmage on a fourth-and-1 sneak at the LSU 6.

At that point, LSU's offense had gone three-and-out on three straight drives. Finley returned to the game and immediately fired a deep pass to Terrace Marshall, a throw that was narrowly completed, and Marshall ran for a 54-yard gain to the Texas A&M 31.

It seemed LSU's offense was breaking out, and it appeared Finley had completed a 31-yard touchdown to Kayshon Boutte in the right corner of the end zone. The catch was overturned upon replay, and, on the next play, Finley's pass over the middle was tipped and intercepted by a diving Texas A&M cornerback Jaylon Jones at the Aggies 21.

"I thought he had possession, but, hey, they're not going to listen to me, right?" Orgeron said. "That was a big turnaround."

LSU's defense forced a three-and-out, and the Tigers still could not make it a two-score game before halftime. Not even in a drive aided by a roughing-the-passer penalty that led LSU to the Texas A&M 16. LSU kicker Cade York's 34-yard attempt missed wide left.

Special teams has been LSU's most consistent phase of football this season, and another blunder in the second half produced poor field position. A punt landed, grazed Gilbert and Texas A&M recovered at the LSU 33.

LSU still forced Texas A&M to punt when Ray Thornton sacked Mond, just the third sack against the Aggies all season, but the Tigers were pinned at their 9.

Two plays later, the game-sealing mistake occurred. On second-and-10, Finley dropped back and was heavily pressured. Before getting hit, he tried to throw the ball downfield. But his pass sailed and was picked off by linebacker Buddy Johnson, who returned the interception 15 yards for a defensive touchdown that set Texas A&M ahead 20-0 with 4:36 left in the third quarter.

Orgeron had stern words for his quarterback on the sideline immediately afterward, and the coach said he told Finley "don't just throw the ball away."

"Just protect the football," Orgeron said. "Don't throw the ball away like that. It was a freshman mistake, but I wanted him to learn."

Max Johnson played the rest of the game and led the Tigers on a 14-play, 81-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Marshall.

LSU's loss was the first game of the team's toughest stretch yet. The Tigers have a difficult offensive issue to solve as it next hosts No. 1 Alabama (8-0) on Saturday, then travels to No. 6 Florida (7-1) the following week.

"I thought we were going to catch on fire on offense," Orgeron said, "but we never did."

Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.