BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) LSU coach Ed Orgeron and the 19th-ranked Tigers can hardly afford to have their remarkable turnaround fizzle out now.
A home finale against Texas A&M is all that stands between the 19th-ranked Tigers (8-3, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) and their best record in SEC play since 2012, not to mention the possibility of 10 victories for the first time since 2013.
None of that looked likely after a stunning upset loss at home to Troy on Sept. 30, LSU’s first nonconference loss in Death Valley since 2000. If anything, a first losing season since 1999 looked more likely. But the Tigers have rallied to beat five SEC opponents in their last six games, with the lone loss coming in a competitive matchup at No. 1 Alabama.
”This game is everything,” said Orgeron, an energetic Louisiana native whose first full season as head coach has been eventful. ”Everything we’ve built and everything we’ve done is on the line in this game. We want to finish (the regular season) with nine wins. We want to go to a good bowl. These guys deserve that and Texas A&M is the next step.”
The Tigers have not lost to the Aggies since Texas A&M entered the SEC. LSU is 5-0 against Texas A&M, all against coach Kevin Sumlin.
Since being eliminated from SEC West title contention with its loss to Alabama, LSU has bounced back with comfortable victories against Arkansas and Tennessee.
Orgeron kept the season from going off the rails after a turbulent September that also included a 30-point loss at Mississippi State before the Troy loss.
”We had to look at ourselves,” Orgeron said. ”We’re 3-2 and were not playing very well. Frankly, we were embarrassed. That’s what brings out the best of you as a coach and a player. I thank the guys for their leadership, the way we practiced.
”Thank God the Florida field goal kicker missed the extra point,” Orgeron added, referring to a 17-16 victory over the Gators the week after the Troy loss. ”The Florida game gave us confidence. It set the blueprint. It set the blueprint for Auburn when we down 20 points. We had some young guys who understood how to go to meetings, how to practice, how to finish and how you’ve got to play.”
LSU overcame a 20-0 deficit in a 27-23 victory over Auburn, which currently is ranked sixth in the AP Poll and could climb into the CFP picture by beating Alabama in the Iron Bowl at home this weekend. LSU then knocked off Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tennessee.
”A lot of leaders stepped up after the Troy game,” senior quarterback Danny Etling said. ”This wasn’t how the season was going to go. Now, it’s extremely important to finish with a win. This is one of our last chances to play as this team.”
Texas A&M has made a comeback of its own after being convincingly beaten at home by Mississippi State and Auburn. The Aggies beat New Mexico and Mississippi to improve to 7-4. More importantly, Texas A&M can get its first winning SEC record since 2012 by defeating LSU.
”Texas A&M is explosive on offense and talented on defense,” Orgeron said. ”They made some big plays on us last year in the second half. Our guys get fired up to play against them. Houston is a big recruiting area for us. We have a lot of guys from Houston and Texas.”
With the new early signing period beginning Dec. 20, Orgeron sees LSU’s resurgence as a recruiting boon.
”Winning these last three games would mean a lot,” Orgeron said. ”We make calls to recruits on Sundays. The response from the players is a lot better on a Sunday night when we have won. Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program.”
Derrius Guice ran for a school-record 285 yards in the Tigers’ 54-39 victory at College Station last Thanksgiving. LSU held a 34-10 third-quarter lead, but the Aggies kept scoring against a very good defense.
”This game means a lot,” sophomore defensive end Rashard Lawrence said. ”We were at rock bottom earlier this year. We know that. Everybody knows that. I feel it is important to finish it big. We have to play a 60-minute game even if we are up or down. No game is easy.”
More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-Top25