COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Texas A&M proved again it can compete with the best teams in the Southeastern Conference.
If the Aggies can eliminate their mistakes, maybe they can beat one.
Jeremy Hill rushed for a career-high 127 yards and a touchdown, and sixth-ranked LSU rallied from an early deficit and beat the 20th-ranked Aggies 24-19 at Kyle Field on Saturday.
A&M (5-2, 2-2) outplayed the Tigers for much of the first half and led 12-0, LSU's largest deficit since the national championship game against Alabama in January. But LSU converted two A&M turnovers into touchdowns just before halftime, and Kadron Boone's diving catch in the end zone with 11 seconds left put the Tigers up 14-12 at the break.
The Tigers (7-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) converted another turnover into a touchdown in the fourth quarter and got a little lucky when Taylor Bertolet missed two field goal tries.
A&M also played third-ranked Florida down to the wire at Kyle Field in its season opener, only to lose 20-17.
"As long as our guys continue to give effort like that," A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said, "we're going to be able to win in any game."
LSU's defense turned momentum by getting a handle on Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel, the SEC's leader in total offense. Manziel completed 29 of 56 passes for 276 yards and also threw three interceptions. He was also the league's leading rusher coming into the game and was held to 27 yards on 17 carries.
"Defense just had to get their feet set and understand what was going on," LSU coach Les Miles said, "get the comfort of the scheme and the habit of throw and how to chase that quarterback. He's a gutsy, tough guy."
A&M came in ranked sixth in total offense and started strong. Christine Michael's short touchdown run was the first score allowed by LSU in a first quarter in four games.
LSU went three-and-out on its initial series, and the defense looked a step slow again when A&M got the ball back. Manziel got plenty of protection from the Aggies' offensive line and threaded a 21-yard pass to Mike Evans for a first down at the LSU 34. Bertolet kicked a 32-yard field goal to put A&M up 9-0.
The Tigers, meanwhile, sputtered for most of the half against the same Aggies' defense that gave up 615 yards in last week's 59-57 win at Louisiana Tech. Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger went 5-for-16 and LSU mustered only 147 yards in the first half.
"I felt like we were rattling him and had pressure in the pocket," said junior defensive end Damontre Moore, who had a sack. "Later on, they made their adjustments."
LSU got the kick-start it needed when freshman cornerback Jalen Collins intercepted Manziel at the LSU 39. Ford gained 13 yards on a fourth-and-1, then raced 20 yards down the sideline for the Tigers' first touchdown with 1:49 left before halftime.
Ben Malena fumbled at the A&M 41 with just over a minute left in the half. The Aggies looked as if they might escape, but Boone's spectacular, over-the-shoulder catch took away their momentum.
"That part is not what you expect," senior linebacker Jonathan Stewart said. "We gave them too many points. We gave them too many explosive (plays). We didn't make them drop balls and earn every single point they got."
LSU started a drive early in the fourth quarter with eight straight running plays, gaining at least five yards on seven of them. Hill ran 18 yards up the middle to the A&M 9 before Jarvis Landry lost yardage on a pass by Mettenberger toward the sideline, and Drew Alleman's 28-yard field goal put LSU up 17-12 with 8:35 remaining.
Trey Williams returned the ensuing kickoff 76 yards to the LSU 16. Linebacker Kevin Minter nearly sacked Manziel on second down and Manziel's throw to Uzoma Nwachukwu fell incomplete on third down. Bertolet shanked a 33-yard attempt and LSU regained possession with 7:28 left.
"We needed to get out of there with something," Sumlin said.
LSU junior cornerback Tharold Simon put it away when he intercepted Manziel's pass and returned it to the A&M 46. Malena finished a quick A&M drive with a 5-yard touchdown run with 1:17 left. But Odell Beckham, Jr. cleanly fielded the onside kick, and the Tigers held on.
"Against a very talented team," Sumlin said, "the margin for error is really, really small."
The announced attendance was 87,429, the fifth largest crowd in Kyle Field history. The Tigers and Aggies were meeting for the 51st time — they played from 1960-75 and from 1986-95 before the series was discontinued. LSU beat Texas A&M 41-24 in the Cotton Bowl after the 2010 season.