On a night when its offense struggled, No. 5 Texas A&M got a scoring boost from its defense.
Isaiah Spiller ran for 141 yards and a touchdown and Buddy Johnson returned an interception for a score in Texas A&M’s 20-7 victory over LSU on Saturday.
The Aggies led by 13 at halftime and got their only points after the break on the 15-yard return by Johnson, a linebacker.
“Once I caught the ball there wasn’t no other answer besides a touchdown,” Johnson said.
Texas A&M (6-1, No. 5 CFP) extended its winning streak to five games in its first contest since Nov. 7 after the team couldn’t play the last two weeks because of a coronavirus outbreak.
“I thought we could have played better,” Spiller said. “We were a little rusty.”
The Aggies relied on their running game and tough defense on a wet and soggy night where rain fell steadily and made passing difficult. Kellen Mond had a season-low 105 yards passing in his first game this season without a touchdown pass. LSU’s 123rd-ranked pass defense broke up eight of his passes in the first half and finished with 11.
“Our offense was way too inconsistent, didn’t get a rhythm (but) our team found a way to win the game and that’s what’s important,” coach Jimbo Fisher said.
TJ Finley threw for 118 yards and had an interception in the second quarter for LSU (3-4) before he was benched for Max Johnson after Buddy Johnson’s Pick-6 in the third quarter.
Texas A&M beat the Tigers for the second time in three years after the Aggies had a 74-72 victory in seven overtimes in LSU’s last visit to Kyle Field in 2018 in a game that tied the record for most OTs in an FBS game.
The Aggies limited LSU to 36 yards rushing and allowed just two of 16 third-down conversions.
LSU fumbled on a punt return with about six minutes left in the third, but the Aggies were unable to take advantage of the miscue when Mond was sacked on third down to force a punt.
Texas A&M made it 20-0 when Johnson picked off a pass Finley threw under heavy pressure and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown with about 4 1/2 minutes left in the third.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron ripped off his mask and screamed at Finley as he approached the sideline after the interception. He then put his hand on Finley’s chest and continued yelling in his face for several more seconds before Finley retreated to the bench.
Orgeron was asked what he told Finley.
“Just protect the football. Don’t throw the ball away like that,” he said. “It was a freshman mistake, but I wanted him to learn that that’s not acceptable. Just take the sack.”
Max Johnson, who played briefly in the first half, finished the game and had 113 yards passing and a 3-yard TD pass that made it 20-7 with less than a minute remaining.
“Our offense was inconsistent all day,” Orgeron said. “They had a great plan on defense. We didn’t match the plan. We should have had a better plan on offense. We couldn’t run the ball. We couldn’t protect. It’s not all the quarterback’s fault. He was running for his life all day – both of them were.”
Spiller had a 52-yard touchdown run, dragging a defender with him for the last couple of yards, to extend Texas A&M’s lead to 10-0 late in the first quarter.
The Tigers looked to have cut the lead to 3 on a long TD catch by Kayshon Boutte with about nine minutes left in the second quarter. But the play was reviewed and ruled an incomplete pass.
The Aggies got the ball back on the next play when Finley’s pass was tipped and intercepted by Jaylon Jones.
Cade York’s 34-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left with about four minutes left in the first half to leave the Tigers scoreless.
Texas A&M led 13-0 at halftime after Seth Small made a 40-yard field goal at the end of the second quarter.
Los Angeles Laker Alex Caruso was among the 23,607 fans at Kyle Field on Saturday night. Caruso, who grew up in town and played for the Aggies, was shown on the big screen during a timeout in the first quarter and honored for winning an NBA championship this season.
Despite the loss, Orgeron was encouraged by his team’s performance on defense. The Tigers entered the game allowing more than 470 yards a game but held the Aggies to 267 yards and just one TD on offense.
“I thought the defense made a lot of improvement,” he said. “Really, I thought they played well.”
The Aggies looked good in handling the struggling Tigers on Saturday, but the offense may have been a little rusty after missing two games as it was shut out in the second half. Mond will need to get back on track next week when Texas A&M visits No. 22 Auburn in what should be its toughest remaining test.
The Aggies should maintain their spot in the poll with the win and no losses by the teams ranked ahead of them this weekend.
LSU: Hosts Ole Miss next Saturday.
Texas A&M: Visits Auburn next Saturday.