No Aggie joke: LSU’s playoff hopes soar, then sink 

THREE TDS:  John Emery Jr. found the end zone three times for LSU but the Tigers couldn’t contain Texas A&M’s running game Saturday night. (Photo courtesy LSU Athletics)

By RYNE BERTHELOT, Journal Sports

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – As quickly as LSU’s College Football Playoff stock rose Saturday, it vanished within hours.

After No. 2 Ohio State’ 45-23 homefield loss to third-ranked Michigan earlier in the day, the Tigers’ chances at moving into the top four of the CFP rankings looked good. Next Saturday’s SEC Championship Game in Atlanta against No. 1 Georgia suddenly loomed as an epic showdown, with a chance for LSU to reach the national championship tournament by upsetting the Bulldogs.

But first things first. LSU will not be ranked fourth in Tuesday’s CFP rankings, or close enough to leapfrog into the final four even if the Tigers can stun the defending national champs next week. Not with three losses, the latest to a team with a losing record and one that just ended a six-game SEC skid at LSU’s expense.

No Aggie joke — just a career-high 215 rushing yards from Devon Achane helping Texas A&M bury LSU’s high hopes Saturday night in a 38-23 shocker at Kyle Field.

“I could break the game down in so many different ways, but it just wasn’t our best. Our best was needed today,” LSU coach Brian Kelly said. “We didn’t have it.”

The Tigers (9-3) trailed for most of the night. A slow start was nothing new. Faltering in the fourth quarter was.

The Aggies (5-7) forced a punt on LSU’s opening drive, and Achane capped a 15-play, 90-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown run up the left side to give the Aggies a 7-0 lead 10 minutes in.

Texas A&M built a 17-10 lead but the Aggies stalled on three consecutive drives to open the third quarter. A&M coughed up the lead when John Emery, Jr. scored his second of three touchowns on a 19-yard carry up the middle with 9:40 left in the third quarter and tied the game.

The tides turned just over two minutes later. LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels fumbled a quarterback keeper into the arms of Demani Richardson, who returned it for a 27-yard touchdown that gave the Aggies the lead for good. It was the second of LSU’s two fumbles on the night, but the only turnover registered in the game.

It just so happened that the one turnover was also the most costly mistake LSU made.

“I think there was some momentum swings there,” Kelly said about Daniels’ fumble. “Obviously we came out in the second half and got some stops and we got the score, thought we got the thing back in order. It was one of those things where you wish you could’ve had it all over again in terms of what happened in that situation. That momentum swing, I don’t know if we ever really recovered from it.”

LSU struggled to find any rhythm in the passing game, as Daniels managed just 88 second-half yards despite playing from behind most of the way. Daniels’ line looked slightly better over four frames, as the redshirt junior finished with 189 yards on 21-of–35 passing.  He also tacked on 84 yards rushing on 12 carries. Daniels was again the Tigers’ most effective weapon offensively, and kept plays alive with his feet when the pocket broke down. He was only sacked once in the game.

“I thought he did a great job protecting himself, sliding protections, I thought he was as good as he’s been all year in terms of protecting himself,” Kelly said. “They ran a lot of two-man, so they got two, three holding calls, could’ve been a lot more. You get behind in those situations, it’s a little more difficult. They’re dropping eight into coverage then.”

Daniels left the game briefly in the fourth quarter after taking a shot to the leg, and he appeared to reaggravate the injury upon his return, but finished under center for the Tigers. Kelly clarified that Daniels suffered two separate injuries.

“He’s got an ankle injury (that) was the last one,” Kelly said. “The first hit, I think he bounced back from that. The second was more of an ankle.”

Achane wasn’t the only part of the Texas A&M offense to find his stride: Both freshman quarterback Conner Weigman and wide receiver Muhsin “Moose” Muhammad had big nights: Weigman completed 12-of-18 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns, while Muhammad caught all five of his targets for 94 yards and a touchdown, which he hauled in at the start of the fourth quarter to give the Aggies a comfortable two-score lead.

The Tigers fell behind 38-17 before scoring again with 6:21 left. LSU’s last threat died at the Aggies’ 27 with just under three minutes remaining, and the Aggies literally ran out the clock.

After an extremely disappointing season, Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher finally saw the potential of his team realized, albeit too little too late.

“It’s what I’ve been saying. They’re young guys that are growing and developing,” Fisher said of his team. “There’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing, it’s how we’ve got to do it and how we’ve got to get the maturity out of them and execute what we got.”

Contact Ryne at rgberthelot@gmail.com