Dallas Colleges: Jordan Jefferson
Texas A&M finished its season as the Big 12's best rush defense, reclaiming the "Wrecking Crew" nickname in the process.
"We had to mix it up," said Tigers offensive coordinator Gary Crowton. "We felt like if we could loosen them up with some big passes, we'd be able to run the football."
Few figured the Tigers would have the kind of success they did doing both, but they did. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson had thrown four touchdown passes in 12 games entering Friday's Cotton Bowl, including just two in his past 11 games.
"I thought he threw the ball about as good as I've seen him throw on tape," Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said. "He was decisive, aggressive and accurate."
With Jefferson keeping the Aggies honest, LSU rolled over the Wrecking Crew for 288 rushing yards. Running backs Stevan Ridley and Spencer Ware both topped 100 yards, and Jefferson made a handful of plays with his legs, extending drives on third down on plenty of occasions and finishing with 67 yards on 12 carries.
"For our run game, I thought we were doing a really good job of dominating the line of scrimmage," Crowton said.
Early on, the Aggies were up 10-0, but with one torque of a knee they were down a leader. Senior linebacker Michael Hodges suffered a sprained ACL in the first quarter, and Texas A&M's leading tackler never returned.
"He is the heart and soul of our defense in many ways," Sherman said. "At the same time, you can't use that as a reason why we didn't perform the way we should have been capable of performing. ... One guy gets hurt, another guy has to step in and make the play."
His replacement, Kyle Mangan, managed just four tackles, the same amount Hodges had already accumulated in the first quarter.
"I think Kyle, put in the situation he was in, he played well," defensive end Lucas Patterson said. "You can't replace a player like Hodges."
With Jefferson having one of his best games of the year, and the Aggies patching together a run defense that often looked out of character, there was little expectation after Texas A&M's 10-0 lead had evaporated that chants of "Wrecking Crew" would make an encore in Cowboys Stadium.
Early on, it might have. Jefferson's first deep pass -- and the Tigers first attempt to soften the defense -- was interecepted with one hand by Coryell Judie. But Jefferson's first of three connections in the end zone with senior receiver Terrence Toliver assured an end to the Aggies' six-game winning streak.
"I came back with the next deep ball call when we got in the right situation," Crowton said. "Jordan stood in there, took a big hit, but got the touchdown. I knew we'd be alright from that point on because we were going to run the ball. We pound it in there."
The Aggies had no answer for the majority of the night. Gaps went unfilled and runners sliced through wide lanes. The Tigers ran the ball 55 times, and averaged 5.2 yards per carry.
"Our offensive line came to play," LSU coach Les Miles said. "Our offensive line said this is a challenge they wanted. I think they played to that challenge."
How the game was won: LSU ran all over Texas A&M's defense for 60 minutes, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill tossed three interceptions, equaling his total from the past six games of Texas A&M's season, when he moved from receiver to starting quarterback. The Tigers easily topped 250 yards on the ground, and hit on a pair of deep balls for touchdowns.
Turning point: Michael Hodges' injury. It was hardly the only reason why the Aggies couldn't stuff the run, but Texas A&M lost its leading tackler and middle linebacker to a right knee injury early in the game, and never regained the physical defensive play it became known for during its six-game winning streak.
Stat of the game: LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson threw three touchdown passes. The Tigers had thrown seven touchdown passes in 12 games this season entering the Cotton Bowl.
Player of the game: Terrence Toliver, WR, LSU. The 6-foot-5, 203-pound senior went out in style, hauling in three touchdown catches to tie an LSU bowl record, including a pair of deep balls over the middle for 41- and 42-yard touchdowns.
Record performance: Friday's crowd of 83,514 was the second-most in Cotton Bowl history, behind the 2009 game between Texas Tech and Ole Miss, the last Cotton Bowl game in the Cotton Bowl stadium.
Record performance II: Texas A&M running back Cyrus Gray became the first Aggies running back since Darren Lewis in 1988 to rush for 100 yards in seven consecutive games.
What it means: Texas A&M's big finish to the regular season won't end with a bang, but they do finish 9-4 despite the loss. The Aggies won nine games for just the second time since 1998. The Big 12, meanwhile, finishes an underwhelming 3-5 in bowl games after a favorable draw. Of the five ranked Big 12 teams playing, Texas A&M was the only one matched up against a ranked opponent.
The Tigers increased their lead with 1:27 remaining in the half on Jordan Jefferson's 2-yard touchdown pass to Terrence Toliver.
The teams were pretty evenly matched on the offensive side of the ball. Texas A&M actually outgained LSU, 258-253, and ran four less plays.
The 45 points in the first half tied a Cotton Bowl record (Ole Miss-Texas Tech, 2009; Boston College-Houston, 1985).
Texas A&M Cyrus Gray, a DeSoto product led all rushers with 68 yards on 10 carries. Another local product, McKinney Boyd's Jeff Fuller, led the Aggies with 52 yards receiving on four catches.
But where A&M held a decisive edge was on special teams, with kick returner Judie Coryell already setting a Cotton Bowl record with 172 yards on five returns.
That being said, LSU still has the edge on the scoreboard. We'll see if the defenses can live up to the pregame billing in the second half.
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