By Harrison Valentine, LSU Digital Media Graduate Assistant
ROUGE – A fourth quarter comeback, powered by Heisman candidate quarterback Jayden Daniels and the LSU offense, allowed the No. 14 Tigers to pull away late from Texas A&M, 42-30, in the regular season finale on Saturday afternoon in Death Valley.
The Tigers will now await their bowl destination, finishing the season 9-3 overall and 6-2 in the SEC.
“7-0 at home,” said head coach Brian Kelly postgame. “We’re really proud of that accomplishment. That was something that we talked about. Winning at home in Tiger Stadium is important to us.”
Time of possession was the story for most of the game as Texas A&M dominated the Tigers by a margin of 36:39 to 23:21 through four quarters of play. That would prove to be enough time for Daniels, who led LSU’s offense to score on its final three possessions before taking a knee to end the game.
The San Bernardino, California native finished 16-of-24 for 235 yards passing and four touchdowns with 120 yards rushing, making his final statement to the college football world.
Daniels would set the NCAA record for passer efficiency in a single season, accounting for 50 touchdowns, coming up just 54 shy of 5,000 total yards. He also finishes the regular season with more yards per game and a better passer rating than any player to win the Heisman Trophy.
“It’s a Top-10 defense in the country,” Kelly said. “You throw for four touchdown passes against that defense, you put up 42 points … It sure as heck can’t hurt you. I think he strengthened his case for the Heisman.”
Down 24-21 with 12:51 to play in the contest, linebacker Greg Penn III intercepted Texas A&M quarterback Jaylen Henderson with 12:51 to play in the fourth quarter, giving the LSU defense a much-needed turnover late in the game. Maason Smith was credited with a QB pressure.
Shortly after, Daniels would find Brian Thomas Jr. in the back of the north end zone, leaping over the defender for a spectacular 23-yard touchdown reception, giving the Tigers the 28-24 lead with 11:52 to play in the game.
Sophomore linebacker Harold Perkins was all over the field, leading the team in tackles with nine, 1.5 of them for loss, along with a quarterback hurry. A combined sack with Da’Shawn Womack in the fourth quarter awarded the unit three-straight stops on third down, giving the ball back to Daniels and LSU’s high-powered offensive attack.
Defensively, the Tigers came up with big plays when they needed them most. Senior safety Andre Sam also posted nine tackles, while senior linebacker Omar Speightsrecorded eight and Penn also finished with eight with a sack and a pick.
“I think we made some plays defensively that I thought got some momentum,” Kelly said. “I thought our offensive line stood tall, protected, and we won some 1-on-1 matchups. We were able to start picking up the pressures. You may get Jayden for a little bit, but you can’t keep him down.”
With 8:25 remaining, Daniels found Malik Nabers for a 21-yard touchdown connection, extending the LSU lead to 35-24. The best wide receiver in college football finished with six catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns, breaking the program’s all-time receptions record.
Nabers finished the regular season 22 yards short of LSU’s career record for receiving yards, a mark set by Josh Reed (3,001) from 1999-2001.
“Our playmakers made plays,” Kelly said. “Big time players make big time plays in games like this.”
Playmakers are everywhere on offense, especially at receiver. Daniels would put a bow on the game – and quite possibly his Heisman campaign – with 4:19 to play, finding senior Kyren Lacy in the corner of the end zone for a 15-yard reception, putting the Tigers up 42-30.