With the victory LSU (11-2) captured its fourth 11-win season in the past six years and won its third AT&T Cotton Bowl in the last four tries. Texas A&M (9-4) snapped a six-game winning streak, suffering a loss for the first time since mid-October while seeing its overall record in the Cotton Bowl Classic drop to 4-8.
“The guys just wanted to play, we came to the last scrimmage and we fought,” LSU head coach Les Miles said. “We weren’t perfect in any way, but this football team has strength. I enjoy this team. The offensive line came in and did a great job. The offensive line handled the line of scrimmage. The defense got on track, we got some picks and that really turned the tide.”
The LSU offense racked up 446 yards of total offense, including 288 yards on the ground, earning points on seven of its 12 offensive drives. After falling behind early 10-0, the Tigers outscored the Aggies 41-14 down the stretch to record the victory. LSU’s 41 points were the fifth-most points scored by a team in a victory in Cotton Bowl history.
On a night where former Syracuse great Jim Brown and 20 other legendary players and coaches were honored as part of a celebration of the Cotton Bowl’s 75-year history, it was the Tigers’ quarterback who made a bid to join the likes of other memorable performances in the tradition rich bowl game. Jefferson completed 10-of-19 passes for 158 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 67 yards and another score. The junior quarterback from St. Rose, La., entered the game with only four passing touchdowns on the season, but found Tolliver three times for scores against the Aggies.
“You have to give credit to a good athlete, the quarterback (Jefferson), he made a lot of good plays for them,” Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman said. “I thought he was the difference in the game.”
Tolliver tied a Cotton Bowl record with three touchdown receptions and earned the Sanford Trophy presented to the game’s most outstanding offensive player. Tolliver joined USC’s Keyshawn Johnson who snared three touchdowns in the Trojans’ 1995 win over Texas Tech.
The Tigers featured two 100-yard rushers with Stevan Ridley racking up 105 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries and Spencer Ware earning 102 yards on only 10 carries. LSU became only the second team in Cotton Bowl history to boast two 100-yard rushers and a 100-yard receiver in the same game joining Arkansas in the 1990 Classic.
While the LSU offense was busy setting records, the Tigers’ defense rebounded from a slow start to stymie the Texas A&M offensive attack as the game progressed. The LSU defense forced four A&M turnovers including three interceptions and one fumble.
Freshman cornerback Tyrann Mathieu led the Tigers’ defensive charge earning eight tackles, a sack, an interception, two forced fumble and a fumble return. He stripped Texas A&M wide receiver Hutson Prioleau and appeared to return the loose ball 37 yards for a touchdown, before a penalty brought the play back. LSU maintained possession, however, and the Tigers ran out the clock to clinch the win. For his defensive efforts, Mathieu earned the McKnight Trophy as the outstanding defensive player of the game.
“Tyrann Mathieu is a special athlete,” Miles said. “He’s learning how to make those plays in the confines of a defense. But he always made those plays. I promise you, we did know that he was that capable.”
Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 22-of-35 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns, but also was intercepted three times and sacked twice. Aggies’ running back Cyrus Gray earned 100 yards on 20 carries, while wide receiver Jeff Fuller had seven receptions netting 83 yards.
Texas A&M wasted little time in exciting the second largest Cotton Bowl crowd in history gathered inside Cowboys Stadium. Coryell Judy took the opening kickoff and darted to the LSU sideline and raced 69 yards before being forced out of bounds at the LSU 31-yard line. The second-longest kickoff return in Cotton Bowl history set the Aggies in prime position on the game’s opening possession. Texas A&M took advantage scoring five plays later when Tannehill found Uzoma Nwachukwu in the end zone on a six-yard touchdown pass. Randy Bullock added the extra point to give the Aggies a 7-0 lead. The five play, 31-yard drive culminated with a touchdown with 13:01 on the clock making it the fourth-quickest touchdown in Classic history.
LSU’s opening drive stalled and the Tigers were forced to punt. However, a roughing the kicker penalty on Texas A&M gave LSU a first down at the 39-yard line. The Tigers marched to the A&M 24-yard line before Jefferson was intercepted by Judie near the goal line. Judie returned the interception to the two-yard line where Texas A&M set up offense again.
Tannehill guided the Aggies down the field to net points once again following the turnover. Texas A&M put together a nine-play 76-yard drive setting up Bullock for a 39-yard field goal attempt. Bullock split the uprights to give A&M a 10-0 lead with 5:03 left in the first quarter.
Faced with a quick 10-point deficit, LSU responded with points of its own. The Tigers marched 80 yards in eight plays to find the end zone for the first time on the night. Jefferson lofted a 42-yard touchdown pass to Tolliver. Josh Jasper added the extra point to close the A&M lead to 10-7 with 1:48 to play in the first quarter.
After forcing a Texas A&M punt, LSU’s offense was back on the move this time on the ground. After a pair of Ridley runs netted 13 yards, Ware reeled off a 24-yard run to get the Tigers to the A&M 23-yard line. Three plays later on third down and 11, Jefferson scrambled for a 13-yard gain to get the Tigers a fresh set of downs. Jefferson polished off the scoring drive only three plays later with a one-yard touchdown run giving LSU its first lead of the game. Jasper’s extra point made it 14-10 LSU with 10:13 remaining in the first half.
The Aggies took possession and used their passing game to regain the lead. Texas A&M’s quarterback Tannehill was four-of-four passing for 37 yards on the drive, but it was an Aggies’ running back who provided the scoring toss to complete the seven-play 78 yard drive. Gray took a pitch from Tannehill and then lobbed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Nwachukwu. The touchdown and Bullock extra point earned Texas A&M a 17-14 lead with 7:44 to play in the opening half.
After a touchback, LSU started its next drive from its own 20-yard line. The Tigers gashed the Aggies defense with the running game once again, racking up 53 yards on the ground on the way to a seven-play 67-yard scoring drive. Ridley darted free from A&M defenders to the corner of the end zone on a 17-yard touchdown run. Combined with Jasper’s extra point, Ridley’s run pushed LSU back in front 21-17 with 4:43 to play in the second quarter.
It was the Tigers’ defense who stepped up its play late in the first half earning back-to-back interceptions of Tannehill. Tharold Simon thwarted A&M on the second play of Texas A&M’s next drive intercepting a Tannehill pass at the LSU 40. Following an LSU punt, it was the Tigers’ defense that stepped up again picking off Tannehill for the second time in three pass attempts. Eric Reid snared the errant pass at the Texas A&M 36 and returned the interception to the Aggies’ two-yard line. Three plays later, Jefferson found Tolliver for a two-yard touchdown pass, marking the second time the LSU combination had connected for a score. Jasper’s extra point made it 28-17 LSU heading into the halftime break.
The 45 combined points scored by both teams in the first half tied the Classic record matching the 2009 Ole Miss-Texas Tech and the 1985 Houston-Boston College games.
LSU wasted little time revving back up the offense after the halftime break. Jefferson eluded A&M defenders gaining 32 yards on a third down and 19 yard play to gain a first down. Only two plays later, Jefferson hooked up with a familiar target through the air finding Tolliver for a 42-yard touchdown pass. Jasper tacked on the PAT and LSU extended its lead to 35-17 with 12:06 remaining in the third quarter. With the scoring catch, Tolliver tied USC’s Keyshawn Johnson for the Cotton Bowl record of three touchdown receptions in a game. Johnson netted three touchdown receptions against Texas Tech in 1995.
Texas A&M mounted a 13-play drive that lasted just more than five minutes, however the Aggies were forced to punt when the drive stalled. LSU used the remainder of the third quarter to go 59 yards on 12 plays, but came up empty when a 44-yard field goal attempt by Jasper sailed wide right. LSU retained a 35-17 lead heading into the final quarter of play.
The Aggies’ offense was on the march to begin the fourth quarter going 73 yards on 13 plays to the end zone. On third and goal at the four yard-line, Tannehill spotted Kenric McNeal for a four-yard touchdown pass culminating a drive that lasted 4:57. Bullock converted on the extra point and A&M cut back into the LSU lead at 35-24 with 10:04 to play.
Following a Texas A&M kickoff that bounced out of bounds, LSU started its next drive on its own 48-yard line. After gaining 19 yards on seven plays, Jasper tied a Cotton Bowl record by nailing a 50-yard field goal. Jasper joined Alabama’s Greg Gantt (1973) and Miami’s Carlos Huerta (1991) on the record-breaking field goal list.
Jasper was called on again on the Tigers’ next offensive possession. He was good again this time on a 26-yard attempt with 3:04 remaining. A fumble recovery by LSU’s Mathieu on the next play from scrimmage ended Texas A&M’s drive and clinched the victory for the Tigers.
“I have to thank the Cotton Bowl Committee and certainly the opportunity to play in such an historic game,” Miles said. “This game is made more important to use by the (Big Play) luncheon we had where it depicted the great players and the great teams and the great circumstance of a Cotton Bowl. We’re very honored to play in it.”