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BATON ROUGE — Ed Orgeron left LSU an improbable winner Saturday night.
Quarterback Max Johnson threw a 28-yard touchdown pass just before getting hit to wide receiver Jaray Jenkins with 20 seconds to play for a 27-24 upset of No. 15 Texas A&M in front of a sparse crowd at Tiger Stadium Saturday night.
“How about them Tigers, baby,” Orgeron yelled as he entered the press conference.
The Tigers (6-6, 3-5 SEC) got bowl eligible with the victory, but Orgeron will not coach the bowl game should LSU get a bid. The new coach, which could be Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, may choose to coach that game. Orgeron said offensive line coach Brad Davis would coach the bowl, but that is unlikely as the new coach may not retain Davis.
Orgeron, the winningest single-season football coach in LSU history, was fired after a 3-3 start last October, effective at the end of the season. The Tigers went 15-0 and won the national championship in the 2019 season behind Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow before a drop to 5-5 last year.
Johnson, who fought off a furious rush all night and was sacked six times, completed 5 of 7 passes for 86 yards on the final drive.
“I thought something good was going to happen,” Orgeron said. “I just felt that we had enough time.”
Orgeron was not sure if the winning play was designed or an ad lib. “That was the play I guess,” he said. “I was just being a cheerleader by then.”
Orgeron, a surprise hire by LSU after the 2016 regular season, began his job as LSU’s head coach as a vocal cheerleader. He was promoted from defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator to interim head coach after Les Miles was fired following a 2-2 start in 2016. Orgeron, who was 10-25 as Ole Miss’ coach from 2005-07 and 6-2 as USC’s interim coach in 2013, was not considered a favorite to remain LSU’s head coach.
But he then directed the Tigers to a 7-4 and 5-3 regular season finish and had the interim tag removed. LSU beat No. 15 Louisville in the Citrus Bowl to finish 8-4.
The Tigers were 9-4 in 2017 and 10-3 in 2018 before an improbable national championship season that few saw coming.
“When the next guy steps in, I’ll wish him all the best,” Orgeron said. He also wished the media well.
“Hey, I want to say something. Six years man, and you’ve been fair to me,” he said. “Come down to Destin, and I got some sun tan lotion for you. Go Tigers.”
And Orgeron was out.
The Aggies, a touchdown favorite, finished 8-4 overall and 4-4 in the SEC under coach Jimbo Fisher, who was a serious candidate to replace Miles at the end of the 2015 season at LSU before school officials decided to keep Miles. LSU was interested again in 2016, but Fisher’s price was too high as he had just won the national championship at Florida State in the 2013 season. And LSU has been interested in Fisher replacing Orgeron, but Fisher has never been interested this time around.
Texas A&M took its first lead of the game at 24-20 with 7:33 to play on a spectacular 32-yard catch and run by wide receiver Jalen Preston. He caught the ball from quarterback Zach Calzada in the flat on the A&M sideline, made a move and dodged tacklers as he traversed the entire field to the LSU sideline and scored.
The Aggies, who trailed by 10-0 in the second quarter and by 17-7 at halftime, closed to within 20-17 with 14:22 remaining in the game on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Calzada to Preston.
LSU took a 20-10 lead with 2:29 to play in the third quarter on a 47-yard field goal by Cade York.
Johnson, who finished 22-of-38 passing for 306 yards and three touchdowns, put LSU up 10-0 on a 45-yard touchdown pass to Jenkins early in the second quarter.
The Tigers took a 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter on a 50-yard field goal by York.
Calzada completed 20 of 35 passes for 242 yards and three touchdowns. He found wide receiver Moose Muhammad III on a 13-yard touchdown pass to cut LSU’s lead to 10-7 with 4:31 to go in the second quarter.
But Johnson hit wide receiver Trey Palmer on a 61-yard touchdown bomb for a 17-7 with 32 seconds left before halftime.
“I told them how proud I am of them,” Orgeron said. “They fought, and something good is always going to happen when you fight like that. Backs against the wall. Kept on fighting.”