ARLINGTON, Texas – In the bottom line assessment of Texas A&M’s third season under coach Mike Sherman, the glass is half full. That’s the case even if the Aggies closed the 2010 campaign with a glass-is-half-empty loss.
Texas A&M returned to the Cotton Bowl, a regular goal when the 17th-ranked Aggies played in the Southwest Conference. The 75th anniversary of one of college football’s oldest bowl games was unkind to the Big 12 Conference representative Friday night before a crowd of 83,514 at Cowboys Stadium.
No. 11 LSU, offensively challenged all season, got an outstanding game from maligned quarterback Jordan Jefferson and overcame a 10-0 deficit to beat Texas A&M, 41-24. It was the Aggies’ sixth consecutive Cotton Bowl loss and it ended the team’s six-game winning streak.
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But that season-ending rush that earned Texas A&M a three-way tie for the Big 12 South Division crown provided a ray of sunshine and hope for the 2011 season.
"I told ‘em before the game I was proud of ‘em and that doesn’t change because we lost," said Sherman, who returns 18 starters next season. "They took a lot of steps that we asked them to take this season. But we couldn’t take the final step. Our fans had great expectations for this game. We didn’t finish it off and it’s great disappointment.
"When you look at what we accomplished collectively I think it’s very positive."
Considering that A&M started the season 3-3, recovering to finish 9-4 still should provide momentum heading into the offseason.
"It’s tough to think about next season right now," said Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who had three interceptions in 199 attempts but threw three picks against LSU. "This team put a lot into this game, I put a lot into this game. To not perform the way I’m capable of … I kinda dropped the ball."
LSU (11-2) had seven touchdown passes during the regular season but Jefferson had three – all to Texas native Terrence Toliver. Jefferson threw for two TDs in the season opener but had just two the rest of the season.
The third Jefferson-to-Toliver hook up was the back breaker. LSU took the second half kickoff and faced a third-and-19 from its 24 after Von Miller sacked Jefferson. But the left side of the Aggies’ line failed to keep rush lanes and Jefferson escaped for a 32-yard gain.
Two plays later, Jefferson – with Jordan Mathis about to sack him – fired deep to Tolliver who beat Dustin Harris for the touchdown and a 35-17 lead less than three minutes into the third quarter.
The Aggies jumped to a 10-0 lead. Coryell Judie returned the opening kickoff 69 yards to set up a touchdown and then intercepted Jefferson to end the Tigers’ first possession. That led to a Randy Bullock field goal.
Bullock had a chance to extend the Aggies’ lead to 13-7 but his 52-yard field goal hit the right upright. Taking over on its own 35, LSU drove 65 yards in nine plays. Texas A&M countered with a Ryan Tannehill to Uzoma Nwachukwu for a short-lived 17-14 lead midway through the second quarter.
Tannehill, who had not thrown an interception in his last three games and just three interceptions on 199 attempts, had picks on back-to-back drives with the Aggies trailing 21-17. The second was pilfered by LSU’s Eric Reed, who returned it to the 2-yard line. On third-and-goal, Jefferson’s pass was caught by the 6-5 Toliver, who was being covered by 5-10 Terrence Frederick.
"My first read got jammed on the right side and I came off on my second read," said Tannehill, who finished 22 of 35 for 204 yards. "The guy (Reed) made a great play."
Trailing 38-24 with six minutes remaining, Tannehill threw his third interception when LSU freshman linebacker Tyrann Mathieu – who had a key sack in the first quarter and a fumble recovery to end A&M’s last possession – made a spectacular diving interception.
The Tigers made the big plays that counted.
LSU gained 288 yards rushing while the Aggies ran for 155 yards. Cyrus Gray with 100 yards on 20 carries – his seventh consecutive 100-yard rushing game.
"Obviously LSU was the better team they really played well and gave us all we could handle," Sherman said. "They were running the ball effectively and our gap fits in the run game weren’t what they needed to be."
The Aggies lost senior linebacker Michael Hodges, their leading tackler, on LSU’s second possession.
"Injuries are a part of the game," Sherman said. "He’s the heart and soul of our defense. You can’t use that as the reason we didn’t perform."
Texas A&M’s loss gave the Big 12 a 3-5 record this bowl season. There was a disturbing common denominator in all eight games that was illustrated in the Cotton Bowl. In eight bowl games, Big 12 foes rushed for 1,762 yards (220 yards game) while Big 12 teams rushed for 900 yards (112.5 yards per game).