- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M lost a close, hard-fought battle with LSU 24-19 on Saturday at Kyle Field, a day where the Aggies struggled taking care of the ball and met a defense that is filled with speed, athleticism and depth. Here's a closer look at three plays that helped tell the story of the game:
Situation: Texas A&M ball, third-and-6 at the Aggies' 35 (4:33 left second quarter)
Score: Texas A&M 12, LSU 0
Result: Interception by LSU CB Jalen Collins, returned to the LSU 42.
Breakdown: Aggies redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel was looking for true freshman receiver Thomas Johnson down the left sideline Collins came away with the pick. Another true freshman, Sabian Holmes, crossed with Johnson at the beginning of the play to set a pick (which he was flagged for) in order to free up Johnson. However, Collins -- who was lined up against Holmes at the start of the play -- was playing zone coverage, not man-to-man, and simply backpedaled and watched Manziel's eyes and was in perfect position to pick off the pass when Manziel launched it.
Pass protection was good, so Manziel wasn't rushed and Johnson appeared to stutter step, then stumbled, so the ball sailed way past him and into Collins' hands. LSU freshman cornerback Jalen Mills -- who lined up across from Johnson at the start of the play -- tried to follow Johnson and ran right into Holmes, which gives the appearance of man-to-man coverage but Collins instead dropped back into zone, making it an easy play for him.
That turnover ended up being costly, as LSU scored 2:33 later, cutting the deficit to 12-7. That begin the shift in momentum that swung in the Tigers' favor.
Situation: Texas A&M ball, third-and-3 at the Aggies' 44 (11:10 left in third quarter)
Score: LSU 14, Texas A&M 12
Result: Loss of 1 yard on a called run for Manziel.
Breakdown: This play was one on which the Aggies have pulled off big gains on a couple of occasions this season, a quarterback counter play in which Manziel fakes one way and goes the other as blockers pull in front of him. Against Arkansas, the play gained 52 yards and against Louisiana Tech, Manziel got a 72-yard touchdown run on third-and-23.
On this particular rendition, the Aggies were trying to keep the chains moving on their first drive of the second half. But LSU's defensive speed helped keep Manziel and the Aggies from getting big yardage.
The offensive line does a good job of forcing the LSU defensive linemen toward the right side of the field as Manziel fakes and goes left, but the play begins to break down when cornerback Jalen Mills eludes the block of tight end Michael Lamothe (who was lined up in sort of an H-back position to the left of Manziel) and forces Manziel to run wide. As Manziel flattened out, that gave LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery and linebacker Kevin Minter a chance to recover and close in on Manziel. As Montgomery had him in his crosshairs, Manziel hesitated, giving safety Craig Loston -- who was effectively blocked on the play by running back Christine Michael -- a chance to get off the ground and finish off the play with a tackle.
The Aggies punted on the next down. The play was a symbol of the difficulties Manziel had finding running room against the Tigers, whose defensive speed and depth is superior to some of the Aggies' recent opponents.
Situation: LSU ball, first-and-10 at the Aggies' 47 (3:20 left in fourth quarter)
Score: LSU 17, Texas A&M 12
Result: 47-yard touchdown run by running back Jeremy Hill.
Breakdown: The Aggies did a solid job for the most part of keeping the Tigers from gashing them with huge plays in the running game, but this one got away. It came right after an LSU interception, so it became a double-whammy in terms of momentum and effectively sealed the game.
The Tigers lined up in an I formation with two tight ends and one receiver out wide. At the snap, the Tigers line was able to push the Aggies' defensive front back, opening a nice hole for Hill. Particularly impressive was the job done by left guard La'el Collins, who -- with a little help from left tackle Josh Dworaczyk -- pushed defensive tackle Spencer Nealy back about 4-5 yards and center P.J. Lonergan, who moved defensive tackle Jonathan Mathis down the line, which basically created the hole.