|Eric Reid and Lamin Barrow were among the LSU defenders making Johnny Manziel's life hard. (US Presswire)|
LSU WON. The Tigers survived another slow offensive start to pick up a critical SEC West road victory, turning two late first-half Aggie turnovers into their only two touchdowns of the game's first 55 minutes and shutting Johnny Manziel and Co. out for 28 minutes of the second half. In what seemed like a carbon-copy of the Aggies' home loss to Florida in Week 2, "Johnny Football" led A&M to a quick first-half lead but struggled badly over the final three quarters, finishing just 29-of-56 for 291 yards, three intercptions, and no touchdowns. A&M finished with 101 more total yards but turned the ball over five times to LSU's none.
WHY LSU WON: Because while A&M has a bevy of talent across the field -- Ben Malena and Christine Michael at running back, Ryan Swope at receiver, Damontre Moore (who added another sack to his SEC-leading total) at defensive end and SEC-caliber athletes aplenty in the back seven -- any team coached by Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury is going to live and die with its quarterback. On Saturday, it died with Manziel. Even given the challenge represented by LSU's defense, the numbers weren't pretty; 4.8 yards per pass attempt aren't going to beat many SEC teams, and 1.6 yards per rush (just 27 total) should tell you how little impact he had with his legs.
But even those numbers don't do justice to how flustered Manziel appeared, how many times he felt pressure, wriggled free of LSU defenders in the pocket, looked on the verge of breaking something big ... and then either threw the ball directly to an LSU player or scrambled right back into the arms of the pursuing Tiger defensive line. In the pocket, he wasn't much better, repeatedly airing the ball deep even when the LSU corners had Swope and Co. blanketed. In the turnover department, not all three of the interceptions credited to Manziel were his fault; one was a well-executed slant that bounced off Mike Evans' shoulder pads. But two of them were, and both led directly to LSU scores.
In the end, it wasn't remotely the performance of a serious Heisman Trophy candidate, and it wasn't nearly good enough to beat a top-10 team like LSU.
WHEN LSU WON: The Aggies put a modicum of interest into the game's end (and forced LSU to recover an onside kick) by driving 80 yards for a too-little-too-late Malena touchdown in the waning seconds, but Jeremy Hill's 47-yard touchdown run with 3:12 left -- just one play after a particularly hare-brained Manziel interception -- put LSU up 24-12 with just 3:12 left. Given the Aggies' offensive struggles over the previous two quarters-plus, it meant it was going to take nothing short of a miracle for the Aggies to pull out the win.
WHAT LSU WON: Not only did LSU clear the final hurdle between the Tigers and the mega-ultra-showdown at home against the Crimson Tide in two weeks, they remained just one win away from seizing control of the West race and the one-loss team best poised to crack the BCS top two. So, yeah, pretty big win? Pretty big win.
WHAT TEXAS A&M LOST: Given the way the LSU offense struggled (predictably) over most of the game, the 12-0 lead, the 410-316 yardage advantage, this was a golden opportunity -- at home, against the Aggies' biggest new SEC rival -- to announce A&M as something more than just the guys happy to take third in the SEC West and play in a decent bowl. As against Florida, they came up empty. It won't leave scars (those would come when Manziel has a little more seasoning), but it's a loss that's going to sting all the same.