COLLEGE STATION — All Tyrel Dodson could think of was his grandma’s smile.
The sophomore linebacker struggled to put into words what it felt like seeing open field ahead of him after his 40-yard pick six in the second half. The interception helped Texas A&M win its second straight game, beating Louisiana-Lafayette 45-21 Saturday afternoon at Kyle Field.
“It was my first college touchdown and I was thinking about how happy my family was in Tennessee,” Dodson said. “We’ve got to finish. That’s the main thing we talk about every single game and that’s what we did today.”
Texas A&M turned the ball over three times in the first half and were outgained by 100 yards in the first half. But the Aggies four turnovers and scored 31 unanswered points in the second half to head into conference play with a two-game winning streak.
Freshman quarterback Kellen Mond threw for 149 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the first half and added 152 yards and a touchdown through the air and ran for a touchdown in the second half.
Offensively, the Aggies outgained the Cajuns 353-82 in the second half and ran for 201 yards while limiting Louisiana-Lafayette to just 22 yards over the final two periods.
“We were like two different teams,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said.
Texas A&M shifted things around on the offensive line. Center Erik McCoy moved to guard, freshman Jared Hocker made his first start at right guard, and sophomore Colton Prater started at center for the first time in his A&M career.
McCoy shifted back to center early in the fourth quarter and four true freshmen joined him on the offensive line.
Sumlin said it was the plan all along to let the freshmen get some game experience headed into conference play not only on the offensive line but at other positions.
It was boom or bust early on for the Aggies. They had a 77-yard touchdown ruled out at the one that led to a one-yard catch by Christian Kirk late int eh opening quarter and needed just one play for Jhamon Ausbon to retake the lead early in the second quarter.
Louisiana-Lafayette scored back-to-back touchdowns to end the half, going 37 yards in three plays midway through the second quarter and finishing off the half with a 13-play, 81-yard drive to take a one touchdown lead into the break.
“This early game caught a lot of us off guard,” Kendall Bussey, who ran for 91 yards on a team-high 13 carries, said. “We came out a little shaky but we came into halftime and picked things up and listened to our coaches and played Aggie football. We knew we weren’t playing up to our standards. Most of the energy was just to get fired up and do what we do.”
A&M didn’t make a mistake in the second half, scoring on their first three drives, returning an interception for a touchdown, and holding the Rajin’ Cajuns to just four first downs. Louisiana-Lafayette crossed midfield two times in the second half.
Freshman Jacob Kibodi continued the offensive run late in the fourth quarter when he sprinted 67 yards for a touchdown. He finished with 101 yards on five attempts, all of which came in the second half.
A camera caught walk-on receiver Will Gunnell making an obscene gesture to the crowd as the team headed to the locker room at halftime. He did not return for the second half and Tweeted out an apology as soon as the game was over.
“He’s embarrassed and we’ll handle whatever disciplinary action this week,” Sumlin said.
Texas A&M begins SEC conference play with a neutral site game against Arkansas at AT&T Stadium in Arlington next Saturday at 11 a.m. The Aggies return home to take on South Carolina and Alabama on Sept. 30 and Oct. 7, respectively.
The Aggies have beaten the Razorbacks five straight times since joining the SEC in 2012.
“This game was about three things,” Sumlin said. “It was about effort, which we’ve been getting. It was about communication, which we’re improving on. And execution, which is a work in progress. Two of those three will win some games, three of three will win most games.