By BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU coach Ed Orgeron stood outside the Tigers’ locker room praising his team’s “remarkable” turnaround from a stunning upset two months ago. Across Death Valley, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin fielded questions about whether his tenure with the Aggies is over.
Danny Etling passed 347 yards and three touchdowns and No. 19 LSU beat Texas A&M 45-21 on Saturday night in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Etling’s touchdowns went for 11 yards to Russell Gage, 10 yards to J.D. Moore and 6 yards to D.J. Chark as LSU (9-3, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) won for the sixth time in seven games to finish with its best SEC record since 2012.
“Looking back at all the things that we went through, it’s a remarkable feat by our team,” said Orgeron, whose team was 3-2 and under intense scrutiny after Troy had handed LSU its first non-conference loss at home since 2000 on Sept. 30.
Kevin Sumlin on hot seat
The Aggies (7-5, 4-4) entered the game with questions swirling about the future of coach Kevin Sumlin, who has never had a losing season since taking over at A&M in 2012, but who will go a fourth straight year without as many as nine victories.
Sumlin said he “didn’t know anything” about his future at Texas A&M, but said he believes he should be retained and that his program is in better shape now than when he took over.
“It’s just business as usual for me,” Sumlin said. “In my mind, I do my job as best as I can and if you think otherwise, if you start doubting who you are, you’re in the wrong business.”
Etling, a senior, completed 19 of 30 passes and had six completions longer than 25 yards, including a 56-yarder on a short pass to running back Darrel Williams and a 49-yarder deep downfield to D.J. Chark.
“What a great way to end my time in Tiger Stadium,” Etling said. “It’s been quite the turnaround and now we have a chance to go grab a 10-win season” with a bowl victory.
Etling’s outing represented his best day yet at LSU, where he transferred from Purdue.
Etling’s previous LSU high for yards passing was 324 against Texas A&M last season. His career-high remains 485 yards passing for Purdue against Indiana in 2013.
Nick Starkel passed for 227 yards and two touchdowns for the Aggies, who twice cut LSU’s lead to just six points in the third quarter. But he was intercepted three times and the Aggies also lost a fumble. Trayveon Williams had short touchdown run that cut LSU’s lead to 20-7 shortly before halftime.
Christian Kirk caught seven passes for 78 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown which made it 27-21.
But LSU responded with a five-play, 71-yard touchdown drive that included Etling’s 33-yard completion to Gage and his scoring pass to Moore.
Texas A&M: The Aggies came in with a chance to finish equal with LSU and Mississippi State at 5-3 in the SEC. Instead, the Aggies looked anemic and out of sorts on offense much of the game, and their defense eventually wore down.
LSU: The Tigers, who outgained the Aggies 601-282 in total yards, had themselves to blame for A&M getting close in the third quarter. But LSU didn’t fold. The Tigers were relentless and pulled away again for a convincing victory that should secure a bid to one of the more attractive bowls around New Year’s Day.
Aggies players acknowledged they were aware of scrutiny on Sumlin, but didn’t seem to appreciate it.
“It’s a shame that if you don’t win 10 games in this league that your coach is automatically on the chopping block,” linebacker Cullen Gillaspia said. “We went out and fought for him and I’ll continue to fight for him. He’s my coach.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Gage finished with 81 yards on just four receptions. Chark caught five passes for 86 yards.
Running back Derrius Guice rushed for 127 yards on 28 carries, including powerful 1-yard TD in which he willed his way across the goal line, twisting and churning through several tacklers. Williams rushed for 106 yards and one TD. His 77-yard gain on a direct snap set up Chark’s TD.
There were three turnovers on the first four series.
Moore was stripped by Aggies’ cornerback Charles Oliver on the game’s first play from scrimmage.
Three plays later, LSU cornerback Andraez “Greedy” Williams intercepted his fifth pass this season.
Two plays into A&M’s second series, running back Keith Ford fumbled on a hit by cornerback Kevin Toliver II and linebacker Donnie Alexander returned the ball 33 yards, setting up a field goal to make it 6-0.
Texas A&M safety Derrick Tucker was ejected for targeting after a helmet-to-helmet hit on Guice in the fourth quarter. Later, Aggies receiver Clyde Chriss was thrown out for his involvement in a scuffle on the LSU sideline after LSU linebacker Devin White’s interception.
Both teams await bowl bids that will be announced on Dec. 5.
For more AP college football coverage: http://www.collegefootball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25