You’ve got more speed on the field (in LSU’s Mustang defensive package), and certainly that was a big benefit for us.” John Chavis, LSU defensive coordinator
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Chalk up another win for Old Man Football.
Texas A&M threatened to swamp LSU Saturday, driving the Tigers into a 12-0 hole while LSU struggled to mount a counterattack.
It looked bleak for the Tigers, with Aggies freshman phenom Johnny Manziel riddling LSU’s defense while white-clad A&M yell leaders whipped the maroon-clad Aggies faithful into a swaying, towel-waving frenzy.
But on the LSU sideline the mood was calm, the resolve to come back from the Tigers’ biggest road game deficit in eight years undaunted.
“There’s no reason to panic when you get down,” quarterback Zach Mettenberger said. “You have to keep grinding away, keep staying focused, keep believing. We did that, and right before half we got two quick possessions and two touchdowns.”
Quicker even than A&M’s fast break offense could score, LSU snatched the halftime lead away from the stunned Aggies en route to an eventual 24-19 victory.
On fourth-and-1 at the A&M 33, Spencer Ware pitched out of the Wildcat formation to Michael Ford, who ran around left end to the 20. On the next play, Ford slid around right end to make it a 12-7 game with 1:49 to go.
On A&M’s subsequent possession, Ronald Martin forced a fumble from running back Ben Malena, with Lamin Barrow recovering at the Aggies’ 40 with 46 seconds left. Mettenberger then found touchdown target Kadron Boone at the goal line, as he made a leaping 29-yard grab to put the Tigers ahead 14-12 with 11 seconds before intermission.
It was Mettenberger’s first TD pass in a Southeastern Conference game.
“It was an adjustment,” said Boone, who has caught four of Mettenberger’s seven TD passes. “They were playing up, so we felt we could get them with a double move. They were packing the box to take away the run so we knew we had to make a play at the receiver position.”
From the second quarter on LSU’s defense gradually broke down A&M’s high-tech offensive machinery with its Mustang defense, a smaller, quicker look with three down lineman and six defensive backs.
“We wanted to pressure them a little more, and it’s easier to pressure them out of our Mustang package,” defensive coordinator John Chavis said. “You’ve got more speed on the field, and certainly that was a big benefit for us.”
Manziel completed 29 of 56 passes for 276 yards — the first time anyone has thrown for over 200 yards against LSU this season.
But the man they call “Johnny Football” — on the verge of becoming a dark horse Heisman Trophy contender with a winning turn against the Tigers — was sacked three times with four hurries and was harassed into throwing three interceptions, equaling his total from the Aggies’ first six games.
The SEC leader in total offense and rushing, Manziel netted a season low 27 yards on 17 carries and failed to run or throw for a touchdown for the first time.
“It wasn’t fun chasing Manziel all day,” defensive end Barkevious Mingo said. “We did a good job of it, but it wasn’t fun. They had more yards than us.”
A&M outgained LSU 410-316, but a 5-0 turnover differential proved to be the Aggies’ undoing. LSU converted three of those turnovers into touchdowns, helping the Tigers overcome a season-high 13 penalties for 102 yards.
“We give him credit,” free safety Eric Reid said. “He knows how to work the pocket and he does it well. The game is all about momentum. We got some key turnovers and put some points on the board.”
Offensively, the Tigers’ brand of Old Man Football pounded the Aggies into submission.
LSU finished with 219 net yards rushing, led for the second straight week by freshman tailback Jeremy Hill.
Hill eclipsed his career-best 124-yard rushing effort the week earlier against South Carolina with 17 carries for 127 yards and a 47-yard touchdown run with 3:12 remaining that proved to be the winning score.
“He’s showing the coaches in practice that he can play in this league,” Boone said. “We feel if you can make big plays on our defense you can come out here on Saturdays and make plays also. He’s been making plays like that in practice.’
LSU (7-1, 3-1 SEC) remained No. 6 Sunday in the season’s second BCS standings and in the major national polls as the top five teams ahead of the Tigers — Alabama, Florida, Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame — remained unbeaten.
A&M, its five-game winning streak snapped, fell to 5-2 and 2-2 and slipped from No. 20 to No. 22 in The Associated Press Top 25.
LSU now has an open date before hosting No. 1-ranked Alabama on Nov. 3 (7 p.m., CBS) in a game that will again have enormous SEC West and BCS championship implications.
Alabama hosts surprising No. 13 Mississippi State (both 7-0, 4-0) this Saturday (7:30 p.m., ESPN).