(Sports Network) – Jordan Jefferson had three touchdowns passes and ran one in as No. 11 LSU earned a 41-24 win over 18th-ranked Texas A&M at the 75th annual Cotton Bowl.
Jefferson, who came into the game with four touchdown passes on the season, was 10-of-19 for 158 yards with an interception for the Tigers (11-2), who won the Cotton Bowl for the third time and first since a 14-7 victory over Arkansas in 1966.
Terrence Toliver caught all three touchdown passes and finished the game with five receptions for 112 yards. His three TD catches tied a Cotton Bowl record set by USC’s Keyshawn Johnson in 1995 against Texas Tech.
Stevan Ridley had 105 yards and a score on 24 carries, Spencer Ware added 10 carries for 102 yards and Jefferson totaled 67 yards on 12 touches as LSU finished the game with 288 yards on the ground.
Ridley had been ruled academically ineligible for the game on December 22, but the school appealed the decision and the NCAA on Tuesday determined that he did not violate its bylaws.
Ryan Tannehill passed for two touchdowns, but was picked off three times on 22-of-35 passing for 201 yards for the Aggies (9-4), who lost in the Cotton Bowl for the sixth consecutive time. Uzoma Nwachukwu caught two touchdown passes while Cyrus Gray had 20 carries for 100 yards and also threw a touchdown pass in the loss.
Texas A&M got the ball to start the game and the opening kickoff saw Coryell Judie race down the sidelines for 69 yards before being pushed out of bounds at the 31-yard line. Five plays later, Tannehill hit Nwachukwu over the middle for a six-yard score less than two minutes in.
LSU was driving on its ensuing touch, but Judie again came up with a big play as his one-handed interception gave the Aggies the ball back at their own two- yard line.
A 32-yard run from Tannenhill and an 18-yard carry by Gray helped to set up Randy Bullock’s 39-yard field goal with 5:03 left in the opening frame for a 10-0 lead.
The Tigers had an answer on their following possession to make it a 10-7 game. On the eighth play of the drive, Jefferson used play-action and heaved the ball deep down the middle into the end zone, where Toliver grabbed it with his fingertips on a 42-yard score with 1:48 left in the first.
The Aggies attempted a 52-yard field goal from Bullock early in the second, but he hit it off the right upright and LSU got the ball back at its own 35.
LSU used its potent ground attack to get into the end zone to take the lead. The big play of the drive came on 1st-and-5 near midfield as Ware used a spin move and broke two tackles for a 24-yard gain. That led to Jefferson’s run from a yard out for a 14-10 lead.
Texas A&M used a trick play to get the lead back as Gray took a pitchout to the right then tossed the ball into the end zone for Nwachuku on a 14-yard score to make it a 17-14 game with 7:44 left.
LSU, though, scored twice to close out the half for a 28-17 advantage.
On its next possession, the team covered 67 yards over seven plays and took the lead for good as Ridley took a handoff inside, bounced out to the right and took it in from 17 yards out with 4:43 left in the half.
Tharold Simon then picked off Tannehill at the LSU 40, but the Tigers were unable to take advantage of the turnover.
However, after a quick punt, Tannenhill was again picked off, and Eric Reid’s 34-yard return gave LSU a 1st-and-goal at the two-yard line. Three plays later, Jefferson tossed the ball to the left side on a fade to Toliver for an 11-point advantage heading into the break.
LSU began the second half with the ball and a 32-yard run from Jefferson on 3rd-and-19 got the ball across midfield, and a deep bomb over the middle to Tolliver for a 41-yard score made it a 35-17 game.
The score stayed that way until the fourth quarter when Tannehill hit Kenric McNeal on a four-yard score to make it a 35-24 game with 10:04 to play.
LSU, though, sealed the win on its next touch as the team ate up nearly four minutes and capped the drive with a 50-yard field goal, a Cotton Bowl record, from Josh Jasper for a 38-24 lead.
Tannehill’s third interception of the game was turned into a 26-yard field goal from Jasper to cap the scoring in the contest.
LSU’s first score was just the eighth passing touchdown of the season for the team…The Tigers are 3-1-1 in the Cotton Bowl and 22-19-1 overall in postseason play. The team improved to 5-1 in bowl games under head coach Les Miles…Texas A&M fell to 13-19 in bowl games, having dropped six straight games…It was the 50th meeting between these schools as the Tigers own a 27-20-3 mark in the series. It was the first time they met since 1995.