COLLEGE STATION, Texas — With a five-game winning streak and the certainty of being in next week’s Southeastern Conference title game, LSU’s No. 5 only had to worry about undercutting Texas A&M to secure their college football hopes to keep the playoffs alive.
Instead, Devon Achane had a career-best 215 yards with two touchdowns on Saturday, and Texas A&M stunned LSU 38-23, almost certainly knocking the Tigers out of contention for the CFP.
“They did some incredible things and I don’t want this loss to diminish what they’ve achieved this year,” said LSU coach Brian Kelly. “It wasn’t a step backwards. That was a bump along the way and they will 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 stood at 17 in the third quarter before A&M hit 21 straight points.
“It shows what a team we can be,” said Achane. “Just to show 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 undefeated No. 1 Georgia for the conference title, and a win there would put the Tigers in the can bring playoffs. But with three losses, it probably won’t be enough to beat the Bulldogs.
“We just weren’t our best today,” Kelly said. “I’d love to give you one reason why we weren’t our best, but we just weren’t and we had to get better.”
Kelly said he doesn’t think 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 in a loss to Florida State in New Orleans and some inconsistencies ensued. But the Tigers turned a corner after a home loss to Tennessee and plunged into CFP competition with four straight SEC wins over Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama and Arkansas.
“It’s hard. They’ve played great all year. They’ve done incredible things,” said Kelly when asked what his message to the Tigers was.
The Aggies, who opened the season at No. 6 but failed to qualify for a bowl game for the first time since 2008, had a strong end to their disappointing season. They won consecutive games for the first time since September after slipping in six games last week with a win over UMass.
“It’s no secret,” said Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher. “Just do your job. There is no magic formula.”
Achane rushed for 119 yards and scored before halftime to give A&M a 17-10 lead.
“Their best players played at their level today,” said Kelly. “We didn’t make it. Our best players had to make great games and we fell short in that area.”
LSU opened the second half with a nine-game 71-yard drive that was topped by a 19-yard run by John Emery Jr. to keep the score at 17.
But Edgerrin Cooper beat Jayden Daniels, forcing him to fumble on LSU’s next drive. Richardson grabbed it and rushed 37 yards for his second touchdown of the season to put A&M 24-17 ahead with about seven minutes left in the third quarter.
“I think there was some momentum swing,” Kelly said. “I don’t know if we ever really recovered from that.”
The Aggies extended the lead to 31-17 in the first game of the fourth quarter when Moose Muhammad III hit 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 left.
A roaring crowd of more than 93,000 fans packed Kyle Field and some began rushing onto the field with about 17 seconds remaining, causing a delay. It was a stark contrast to last week when most of the crowd was empty after half-time on a wet and cold day.
These fans and several thousand more flocked to the field as time ran out.
Daniels threw for 189 yards and ran for 84 more and Emery had three touchdowns for the Tigers, who lost their first game since losing 40-13 at home to Tennessee on Oct. 8.
Emery cut the lead to 38-23 with a 3-yard run about 6½ minutes to go, but the 2-point conversion missed.
Daniels came close to merging with Jaray Jenkins in the end zone in fourth place 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 non-existent, the Kelly’s Tigers will need to get past them fast if they hope to match the Bulldogs in Atlanta.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.