Danny Etling’s trip down the Tiger Walk on Saturday evening was not normal.
He was the last player off LSU’s team bus, the final guy in a long line down Victory Hill, trailing players and coaches, deep in thought, his duffel bag strap draped across his body and headphones in his ears.
"When I stepped out there, I kind of realized this was the last time I’d be walking down this hill as an LSU Tiger, as a player," Etling said. "I wanted to take it all in and see the fans and the experience of college football. It made me think how far I’ve come."
His final game at Tiger Stadium was anything but subdued.
Etling tore through Texas A&M’s secondary for a career-high 347 yards, carving through the Aggies for a second straight year, and leading the 19th-ranked Tigers to a roller-coaster 45-21 win at Tiger Stadium.
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LSU ended the regular season with wins in three straight games and six in the past seven. The Tigers (9-3, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) finish with their most regular-season wins since 2013 and most SEC victories since 2012.
The Tigers continued their tear following that home loss to Troy, interrupted only by a 24-10 loss at then-No. 1 Alabama. They won road games at Florida, Ole Miss and Tennessee, stormed back to beat Auburn at home and trounced Arkansas. They smothered the Aggies (7-5, 4-4) and embattled coach Kevin Sumlin to extend their streak in this SEC West series.
LSU has won seven straight over the Aggies, and the Tigers remain the only division foe A&M has not defeated since joining the SEC in 2012. Etling and Co., for a second straight season, steamrolled LSU’s former defensive coordinator, John Chavis, who's in his third year at A&M.
"Going to be fun to go out and recruit tomorrow," a smiling Orgeron said afterward, the early national signing period less than a month away.
LSU rolled up 605 yards of offense after putting up 622 a season ago, converted 8 of 15 third-down attempts and didn’t punt until early in the third quarter. On senior night, Etling had the 12th-most passing yards in school history and tied a career high with three touchdown passes, each to a different senior: Russell Gage for 11, JD Moore for 10 and DJ Chark for 6. He began the night 9 of 12, and LSU jumped out to a 20-0 lead before the Aggies crept back, scoring on back-to-back possessions spanning halftime.
There were times Saturday night when you had to wonder whether the LSU Tigers learned anything about the fragility of a 20-0 lead.
Texas A&M closed to 20-14 and got the ball back before LSU cornerback Donte Jackson made a game-turning interception to give the Tigers the boost they needed. They scored touchdowns on their next three drives, blowing this one open and likely providing the final blow for Sumlin and staff.
Running back Darrel Williams, getting the start on senior night, accounted for 162 yards on 13 touches, and Derrius Guice finished with 127 yards a year after running for a school-record 285 in College Station, Texas.
When Aggies defenders crept up for the run — they did often — the Tigers went long.
Etling completed passes of 49 and 33 yards, and LSU’s backs picked up chunks of yards after catches. Freshman Tory Carter had a 28-yarder, Williams went 55 on a screen pass and rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire took one for 27 yards.
"Pretty fun game to be a part of," Etling said. "Really exciting to go out with a win. What a great way to end it in Tiger Stadium."
Said center Will Clapp: "They definitely threw some different stuff at us, but Danny was money all night in the passing game, and we were able to get some big runs on them as the game went on."
The formula resulted in a familiar result.
The seventh consecutive victory over A&M ties for LSU’s longest active SEC win streak. The Tigers have beaten Vanderbilt seven straight as well.
This one wasn’t all offense.
Up until Saturday night, Donte Jackson didn’t have an interception to his name this season.
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s group forced seven punts, picked off A&M quarterback Nick Starkel three times and recovered a fumble. The Aggies started the game 0 for 5 on third-down conversions and, at one point in the first half, had three consecutive three-and-outs.
"It was great to send the seniors out victorious," linebacker Devin White said. "We wanted to win as a team, but we wanted to make sure the seniors went out in style."
A third straight game in this series buzzed with coaching drama.
Sumlin is expected to be fired, and the Aggies are in pursuit of former LSU assistant and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, according to multiple reports. It’s a familiar situation to what unfolded preceding this game two years ago.
LSU officials were targeting Fisher to replace the embattled Les Miles. Miles’ Tigers beat A&M 19-7, LSU players carried off their coach and LSU administrators announced their support of him after the game.
Then, just before last year’s game on Thanksgiving night, reports of the Tigers’ pursuit of then-Houston coach Tom Herman surfaced. LSU beat Texas A&M 54-39, and players chanted Orgeron’s name in a rowdy postgame locker room. Less than 48 hours later, the program named Orgeron as its permanent head coach.
A year later, Orgeron’s group is likely headed for a marquee SEC bowl, if Auburn, Georgia and Alabama all advance to the College Football Playoff or New Year’s Six bowl games. A pair of warm-weather sites in Florida — the Citrus Bowl in Orlando and Outback Bowl in Tampa — are very much possible.