Dallas Colleges: Stevan Ridley
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."
The assignment for the Aggies' defense may get a little easier for the Jan. 7 Cotton Bowl after LSU's top rusher, Stevan Ridley, was ruled ineligible and barring reinstatement, will miss the game.
"This was a one-time incident," LSU coach Les Miles said, declining to get into specifics. "The school has been compliant. Ridley has been compliant. We are appealing it. We are making our case."
Ridley carried the ball 225 times for 1,042 yards and 14 touchdowns, becoming just the 13th player in school history to record a 1,000-yard rushing season.
Redshirt freshman Michael Ford and senior Richard Murphy would replace Ridley if he isn't reinstated, but neither player has more than 41 carries on the season.
Ridley's 225 were second most among running backs in the SEC.
Texas A&M and LSU have the Big 12's best bowl matchup, and it figured to be a physical, low-scoring game similar to the Aggies' 9-6 win over Nebraska earlier this season.
It may still be, but the onus to keep it low scoring falls on LSU's defense. The Tigers' passing offense ranked last in the SEC, and unless Ridley can get back on the field, don't look for the Tigers' offense to do much.
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