COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Riding a five-game winning streak and assured of playing in next week’s Southeastern Conference title game, No. 5 LSU just had to take care of underperforming Texas A&M to keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive.
Instead, Devon Achane had a career-best 215 yards rushing with two touchdowns Saturday, and Texas A&M stunned LSU 38-23, all but certainly knocking the Tigers out of contention for the CFP.
“They have done some incredible things and I don’t want this loss to at all take away from what they’ve accomplished this year,” LSU coach Brian Kelly said. “This was not a step back. This was a bump in the road and they’re going to learn from it.”
Conner Weigman threw two TD passes for the Aggies (5-7, 2-6 SEC) and Demani Richardson returned a fumble for a score. The score was tied at 17 in the third quarter before A&M scored 21 straight points.
“It shows the type of team we can be,” Achane said. “Just showing that it wasn’t the season we wanted but came out to beat a top team.”
LSU (9-3, 6-2, No. 5 CFP) had already won the SEC West and secured a chance to play for the conference title against unbeaten No. 1 Georgia, and a win there could have put the Tigers in the playoff. But with three losses, even beating the Bulldogs likely won’t be enough.
“We just weren’t our best today,” Kelly said. “I’d like to give you a reason why we weren’t our best but we just weren’t and we needed to be better.”
Kelly said he didn’t believe his team overlooked the Aggies.
“We just needed more juice, more fire and we just seemed to lack that today and that’s on me,” Kelly said.
Kelly debuted with a loss to Florida State in New Orleans and some inconsistency followed. But the Tigers turned a corner after a home loss to Tennessee and vaulted into CFP contention with four consecutive SEC wins over Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama and Arkansas.
“This is hard. They’ve played great all year. They’ve done incredible things,” Kelly said when asked what his message to the Tigers was.
The Aggies, who opened the season ranked No. 6 but won’t qualify for a bowl game for the first time since 2008, had a strong finish to their disappointing season. They won consecutive games for the first time since September after snapping a six-game skid with a victory over UMass last week.
“There’s not a secret to this,” Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Just go do your job. There’s no magical formula.”
Achane ran for 119 yards and a score before halftime to help A&M to a 17-10 lead.
“Their best players played to their level today,” Kelly said. “We didn’t match it. Our best players needed to make great plays and we fell short in that area.”
LSU opened the second half with a nine-play, 71-yard drive, capped by a 19-yard run by John Emery Jr. to tie the score at 17.
But Edgerrin Cooper hit Jayden Daniels and forced him to fumble on LSU’s next drive. Richardson scooped it up and dashed 37 yards for his second touchdown this season to put A&M on top 24-17 with about seven minutes left in the third quarter.
“I think there was some momentum swing there,” Kelly said. “I don’t know if we ever really recovered from it.”
The Aggies extended the lead to 31-17 on the first play of the fourth quarter when Moose Muhammad III reeled in a 21-yard TD catch with one hand.
A 10-yard run by Achane, who returned after missing two games with a foot injury, made it 38-17 with about eight minutes to go.
A rowdy crowd of more than 93,000 fans packed Kyle Field and some began to rush the field with about 17 seconds left, causing a delay. It was a stark difference from last week, when most of the crowd emptied out after halftime on a wet and cold day.
Those fans and several thousand more poured onto the field when time expired.
Daniels threw for 189 yards and ran for 84 more and Emery had three touchdowns for the Tigers, who lost their first game since they fell 40-13 at home to Tennessee on Oct. 8th.
Emery cut the lead to 38-23 with a 3-yard run with about 6½ minutes to go, but the 2-point conversion failed.
Daniels nearly connected with Jaray Jenkins in the end zone on fourth down on LSU’s next possession, but Tyreek Chappell knocked the ball out of Jenkins’ hands. The Aggies then ran out the clock.
With their playoff chances all but nonexistent, Kelly’s Tigers will have to put this one behind them quickly if they hope to compete with the Bulldogs in Atlanta.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.