ARLINGTON, Texas – With rumors swirling about LSU coach Les Miles' future, Jordan Jefferson threw three touchdown passes to Terrence Toliver and ran for a score to help the 11th-ranked Tigers rally for a 41-24 victory over No. 18 Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl on Friday night.
Miles is likely a leading candidate for the coaching vacancy at Michigan, where he played and was an assistant coach.
In the days leading up to the Cotton Bowl, Miles said his focus was on his Tigers and that he enjoyed where he was.
But LSU (11-2) has now completed its fourth season with at least 11 wins in Miles' six years. The Tigers had only two 11-win seasons in their history before that.
During the postgame celebration, Miles sang the LSU fight song loud and proud with his players. When asked after that if he'd back next season, there was a pause before Miles responded, "It's a wonderful place. I love it here."
Texas A&M (9-4) led 10-0 in the first quarter, including a field goal after Jefferson threw an interception, but had its six-game winning streak snapped.
It was the 50th game between the border-state schools, but the first since the 1995 opener. Texas A&M had won the last five games in a series that likely will not be renewed in the regular season any time soon.
Jefferson was 10 of 19 for 158 yards with scoring passes of 42, 2 and 41 yards to Toliver, who had only two TD catches in the regular season.
LSU went ahead for good when Stevan Ridley had a a 17-yard TD run, jumping over a defender near the line and then sweeping right untouched into the end zone for a 21-17 lead with 4:43 left in the first half.
Ryan Tannehill, who had been 5-0 since taking over as the Aggies starting quarterback, then threw two interceptions in a span of three throws — after 127 consecutive attempts without a pick. The second interception was by Eric Reid, who returned it 34 yards to the 2 to set up Jefferson's short TD pass to Toliver for a 28-17 halftime lead.
Miles was considered a top candidate for the Michigan job three years ago, during LSU's national championship season.
In an unusual pregame news conference before the 2007 Southeastern Conference championship game, Miles expressed his intention to stay at LSU and later signed a contract extension through 2012. Michigan eventually hired Rich Rodriguez, who was 15-22 when he was fired this week.
There was no pregame talk from Miles before the Cotton Bowl on Friday, after Stanford coach and former Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh agreed to a five-year deal to go to the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers.
Before that, Harbaugh had appeared to be at the top of a short list with Miles and San Diego State coach Brady Hoke, also a former Wolverines assistant, as candidates to return to Ann Arbor and replace Rodriguez.
Regardless of what Miles does, LSU will be back in Cowboys Stadium for its 2011 season opener — against Oregon, which plays Auburn for the BCS national championship on Monday night.
Ridley, who wasn't sure he'd even get to play until the NCAA reinstated him this week after an unspecified "one-time" academic violation, had 24 carries for 105 yards. Spencer Ware ran for 102 yards on 10 carries as LSU got its first Cotton Bowl win in 45 years, since beating Arkansas 14-7 in the 1966 game.
After a three-game losing streak that included a loss to Arkansas in Cowboys Stadium, Texas A&M earned its Cotton Bowl berth with its longest winning streak in 12 years. The six-game surge included victories over Big 12 division winners Oklahoma and Nebraska, along with archrival Texas.
Uzoma Nwachukwu had two TD catches for the Aggies to match his regular-season total. He caught a 6-yarder from Tannehill and a 14-yarder on a halfback pass by Cyrus Gray, who also ran for 100 yards on 20 carries.
Tannehill was 22 of 35 for 204 yards with three interceptions and two touchdowns.
Coryell Judie help set up A&M's two first-quarter scores.
Judie returned the opening kickoff 69 yards to the 31, setting up the first of Nwachukwu's two TD catches touchdown. It was the first time all season that LSU's defense gave up a score on the opening drive.
After the Tigers' opening offensive drive was extended by a roughing the punter penalty, Judie had a one-handed interception near the end zone when he leaped and fully extended his right arm. The Aggies then drove for Randy Bullock's 39-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead only 10 minutes into the game.
When LSU got the ball back, Oliver had both arms stretched over his head when he caught a 42-yard touchdown pass. He had the 41-yarder on the opening drive of the second half.
The Tigers took their first lead on Jefferson's 1-yard TD run early in the second quarter after a missed field goal by Texas A&M. On that nine-play, 65-yard drive, Ware had a 24-yard run when he spun to avoid a tackler at the line and shed two different defenders before being driven out of bounds and Jefferson converted a third-and-11 with a 13-yard scramble.