Les Miles loves calling Death Valley the place opponents’ dreams go to die. The same might someday be said about Johnny Manziel’s bid for a second Heisman Trophy.
Terrence Magee piled up a career-high 149 yards rushing, LSU’s defense pulled the plug on Johnny Football and Texas A&M’s video-game offense, and No. 22 LSU energized Tiger Stadium with a commanding 34-10 victory over the ninth-ranked Aggies on Saturday.
"We just got punched in the mouth tonight and it wasn’t fun," Manziel said. "It wasn’t fun to get beat like that. We will see how we handle adversity. This team with a bunch of young guys — we just have to see how they bounce back."
What was likely Manziel’s only visit to Tiger Stadium (he could turn pro next year) was among the worst outings of his otherwise brilliant career. He passed for 224 yards and a TD, but completed only 16 of 41 attempts, was sacked twice and intercepted twice as the Aggies’ road winning streak ended at 10.
Two weeks ago, LSU’s young defense appeared ground down in the second half of a 38-17 loss at Alabama, begging the question of how vulnerable the unit might be against Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3 Southeastern Conference), whose SEC-leading offense came in averaging a whopping 578 yards and 49.2 points per game.
Instead, the Tigers (8-3, 4-3) became the first to shut out Manziel in a first quarter since September of 2012, and ended A&M’s 13-game streak of scoring 40 or more points. The Aggies’ point and yardage totals were their lowest since coach Kevin Sumlin arrived last season, when Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, became the starting quarterback as a redshirt freshman.
Miles, given the game ball by his players, counted himself among the least surprised by way the Tigers made Manziel’s visit a miserable one.
"They look forward to playing a quality opponent with marquee written all over it," LSU’s coach said. "Competition: It’s a long word and there’s a lot to it. … This is a team that knows how to play in big games and will fight you.
"The defense rushed and maintained leverage and we put speed on the field and covered," Miles added. "That’s the kind of LSU defense that we’re used to."
The Tigers gave some credit to Odell Beckham, who’s been named a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top receiver.
His five catches for 50 yards helped, but it was his work imitating Manziel with the scout team in practice that gave LSU’s defense a good sense of how to contain a dynamic scrambler.
"Odell may be faster than the opponent’s quarterback," Miles said. "He’s as elusive as anybody I’ve ever known."
The Aggies’ Biletnikoff candidate, Mike Evans, was held to four catches for 51 yards by freshman Rashard Robinson, who also made his first career interception.
New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton was among the 92,949 in attendance, eager to get a firsthand look at two of the top quarterbacks in college football.
He may have left more impressed with LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, who completed 11-of-20 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns without an interception in chilly, wet and windy conditions. He found Jarvis Landry four times for 87 yards, including touchdowns of 40 and 10 yards. LSU piled up 324 yards on 55 carries, with Magee and Kenny Hilliard each powering in for short scores. LSU also outgained Texas A&M in total yards, 517-299.
"With the weather conditions tonight, that was something that kind of had to happen," Magee said. "We wanted to keep Johnny off the field and the only way to do that was to keep the ball on the ground and let the clock run."
LSU finished with a time-of-possession advantage of 40:19 to 19:41. That kept the defense fresh, and it showed.
In the first half, the Tigers ended one Aggies drive by pressuring Manziel into an errant pass on a fourth-down stop from the LSU 3. Later, Danielle Hunter’s sack forced A&M to settle for Josh Lambo’s 41-yard field goal. Senior safety Craig Loston intercepted Manziel in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
"We were not able to stay on the field offensively. Because of that our defense just got grounded down. You have got to give LSU credit across the board," Sumlin said. "Offensively, LSU stuck to their plan and I thought our defense held up for a long time, but we gave up a couple of big plays that separated it. That’s something we need to learn from.
"You get on the road and the crowd gets into it; I thought we started pressing a little bit offensively," Sumlin added.
The temperature at kickoff was 51 degrees, with a chilly breeze powering a soaking, sideways mist.
A&M also opened the game driving into the wind, and its passing game appeared the worse for it as Manziel went 2 for 11 in the first quarter, an omen of a tough day ahead.
The LSU offense opened with run-heavy play calling and controlled the line of scrimmage, creating the game’s first explosive play on Magee’s career-long 65-yard run to the A&M 1. Three plays later, Magee powered in to complete a five-play, 71-yard scoring drive during which he ran on every play — and the Tigers had the lead for good.