Jefferson rallies LSU to Cotton win over Aggies
ARLINGTON, Texas – Surrounded by his LSU players, coach Les Miles loudly and proudly sang the school fight song and savored the celebration of the Tigers’ first Cotton Bowl victory in 45 years.
It might have been a farewell to the Bayou. Nobody knows for sure with Miles likely a leading candidate for the coaching vacancy at Michigan, where he played and was an assistant coach.
When asked immediately after the game if he’d be back next season, there was an extended pause before Miles responded, “It’s a wonderful place. I love it here.” He said he has not be contacted by his alma mater.
Amid the uncertainty of 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 75th Cotton Bowl on Friday night.
“We trust Les Miles and we trust his word,” Jefferson said. “His word was he’s not going anywhere and he’ll be our coach next year.”
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.
“I don’t want to talk about me. This is really about LSU,” Miles said. “I told (the players) I have not had any conversations with Michigan at this point. And if I did, I would communicate with them very effectively.”
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.
“I feel bad for my teammates. … Kind of dropped the ball. It’s a tough feeling,” said Tannehill, who was 22 of 35 for 204 yards with three interceptions and two TDs. “You never want to do that to the guys you love and the guys you work so hard with.”
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, Jefferson and 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 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.
“When you don’t finish it off like we wanted to finish it off, there’s great disappointment,” coach Mike Sherman said. “At the same time, when you look at the body of work that the guys put in this year collectively, the stretch run that they had, I think we’ll be able to bounce back from this.”
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 had his seventh consecutive 100-yard rushing game – 100 yards on 20 carries.
Coryell Judie help set up A&M’s two first-quarter scores.
Judie returned the opening kickoff 69 yards to the 31, setting up Nwachukwu’s first TD. 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. That led to Randy Bullock’s 39-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead.
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 Bullock missed a 52-yarder. On that 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.