BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Max Johnson hit Jaray Jenkins with a 28-yard scoring pass down the right sideline with 20 seconds left, and LSU knocked off No. 14 Texas A&M 27-24 on Saturday night to give coach Ed Orgeron a triumphant send-off in his final game in Tiger Stadium.
LSU had lost a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and looked to be on the brink its first losing season since 1999 when Johnson, who’d been sacked six times in the second half, came alive on fourth-and-6 from the LSU 19.
Johnson kept the Tigers alive with a decisive pass over the middle to tight end Jack Bech and then hit Jenkins for a 31-yard gain. An 11-yard pass to Malik Nabers put LSU on the 28, setting up the go-ahead score three plays later and setting off a wild celebration in Death Valley while Orgeron smiled from ear-to-ear on the sideline.
LSU linebacker Damone Clark, a Butkus Award finalist, sealed the victory by sacking Aggies QB Zach Calzada twice.
The victory gave LSU (6-6, 3-5 SEC) two straight wins to close the regular season as a bowl eligible team. The loss likely relegated Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4) to a less prestigious bowl while ending the Aggies chance for a first 10-win season since 2012.
Orgeron, who presided over an undefeated national championship season in 2019 and has gone 11-11 since and agreed back in October to step down after this season.
One of the coaches LSU was widely believed to be pursuing as a candidate to replace Orgeron is Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, a former LSU offensive coordinator and national championship coach at Florida State who was lured to College Station by former A&M athletic director Scott Woodward, who now holds the same post at LSU.
But Fisher has said emphatically that he has no plans to leave the Aggies, who have been competitive since his arrival in College Station in 2017, but have yet to seriously contend in the SEC during his tenure.
For most of three quarters, Fisher’s team was outplayed by Orgeron’s Tigers, but rallied to take a 24-20 lead with two TD receptions by Jalen Preston in the fourth quarter.
The go-ahead touchdown was a memorable one in which Calzada avoided a sack by scrambling left toward the sideline before finding Preston racing over to give him an outlet. After making the catch, Preston outmaneuvered LSU defenders by racing all the way back across the field before slipping a couple tackle attempts to complete the 32-yard scoring play.
Calzada finished 20 of 35 passing for 242 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover. Devon Achane had 121 yards from scrimmage, with 72 yards coming on short receptions. Moose Muhammad caught a 13-yard scoring pass in the first half.
Johnson was 22 of 38 for 306 yards and three TDs, including a 45-yard scoring pass in the first half to Jenkins, who finished with eight catches for 169 yards. Johnson, who had his fifth 300-yard passing game this season, also had a scoring pass on a short throw to speedster Trey Palmer, who sidestepped a few tacklers before bursting into the open field with such acceleration that a defender who appeared to have the angle on him could not push him out of bounds. The 61-yard touchdown gave LSU a 17-7 lead at halftime.
During pre-game ceremonies to honor senior LSU players, those same players got together to honor coach Ed Orgeron, who is stepping down after this season. The players presented him with a game ball as the Tiger Stadium crowd cheered enthusiastically for the Louisiana native who presided over the greatest season in Tigers history — an undefeated national championship in 2019.
Texas A&M: The Aggies came in tied for second in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 14.9 points per game, but LSU overcame A&M defensive end Michael Clemons’ three sacks to score 12 points more than that and gain 412 total yards.
LSU: The changes LSU made on defense during their bye week in late October have now produced sustained results against four opponents — Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana-Monroe and A&M. The Aggies’ 24 points were the most scored against the Tigers during that stretch. Aggies Running back Isaiah Spiller came in averaging about about 107 yards rushing but was held to 27 yards on 11 carries by the Tigers defense.
Texas A&M: Awaits its bid to a bowl game.
LSU: Awaits a bowl bid while continuing its search for a new head coach.