LITTLE ROCK - Bobby Petrino wasn't shy when it was time to go for the kill shot – not to end the first half and not to start the fourth quarter.
Arkansas -- and their slick head coach -- converted both times. Quarterback Ryan Mallett delivered under pressure both times to make the Razorback head coach look good and set off a celebration Saturday night in War Memorial Stadium.
Mallett hit an 80-yard throw and catch to Cobi Hamilton on the final play of the first half, then beat LSU's most troublesome blitz for a 39-yard touchdown play to Joe Adams on a fourth-and-3 play that may send the Hogs to the Sugar Bowl after a 31-23 victory over LSU, No. 5 in the BCS standings.
After first trying to draw LSU offsides, Petrino called timeout to come up with the fourth-down call. He said the situation was exactly what he had been waiting on since last year's loss at LSU.
"There was a lot of thought that went into that play," Petrino said. "I called over Coach (John L.) Smith to ask him what he would do. I worked for him a long time ago. He's always had a saying, you didn't come here to paint. You came to win."
Petrino said the Tigers had hurt the Hogs with a particular blitz last year in Baton Rouge. He said they drew up a protection designed to handle it and get Adams open against the safety in man-to-man.
"That gave us problems last year and we talked about it in the offseason, worked on it the spring and again in the fall," Petrino said. "It was the house blitz and they sit at the stacks with their man coverage. We called the play with Joe on a double move against the safety. Our protection was good and it was great execution. We worked on that play and the situation finally came up."
Adams called it "the tap play." He said he knew it was "a win" when he saw the coverage. He put his feet down a few times in one spot, gave a little wiggle and was past the safety.
"I just put my feet down and tap them, and then go," he said. "We had run that play once earlier in the game, but Ryan got sacked. I didn't think the safety could cover me. I beat him and Ryan threw it out there. I had to go get it, an over-the-shoulder catch.
"We had been working on that one for awhile and it all paid off. I was waiting on a chance to use it. Coach Petrino knows how to set things up. That was set up by working on it all season in practice."
Adams took special satisfaction in the situation. He didn't finish last year's LSU game after taking a hit to the helmet.
"This was sweet," Adams said. "To get that close last year and then to finish them off like we did this year is really nice. This one means a lot.
"Now we have to root for Auburn against South Carolina. That's tough to do, but it could mean a BCS game. When Coach Petrino recruited us three years ago he told us that if we came to Arkansas we would contend for a BCS game before we got to be seniors. He told us that. Now it has a chance to happen."
Petrino said there was never a thought about killing the clock to end the first half when the Hogs took possession on a touchback punt with six seconds left.
"I always think to go for the score," Petrino said. "I asked Ryan what he wanted to run. He hung in there and threw it under pressure. He got hit while he was throwing it. When I saw the coverage, I thought we had a chance. We had the post over the top and Cobi made a great run with it. It was an unbelievable throw."
The Hogs were unbelievable in the trenches, too. LSU won some battles up front, but the Hogs won more than enough.
"I thought we played pretty well (in the offensive and defensive line)," Petrino said. "Our defensive line did a pretty good job. We kept playing them hard and we kept hitting them. What ends up happening is that you wear them down. You hit the quarterback early and your chances to win are good.
"Our offensive line did a great job. We thought they were wearing them down in the fourth quarter. Our backs were running hard and they were going down hill."
The Hogs won every area except special teams. The Tigers had a chance for a big third quarter because of two kickoff returns and a botched catch on a snap by the punter. It left the Tigers just 46, 9 and 51 yards to cover on their three possessions to start the second half. They got only 17, 6 and 3 yards and netted only two field goals.
"When your offense is scoring touchdowns and the other teams just gets field goals, obviously you are going to win the game," said Willy Robinson, UA defensive coordinator. "Our little boys on defense are now full grown men. We just grew up this season. Now we are all of a sudden pretty good.
"I'm very, very proud of this group. It seems like we have gotten better as the season has progressed.
"The way we played in the third quarter was big. But that's the way we've been playing. It was a lot like we played at South Carolina a couple of weeks ago."
The defense set the tone to start the game. Jerico Nelson hit LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson for losses of 4 and 5 yards on his first two snaps. Nelson was Jefferson's tailback in high school.
"Coach came to me early this week and said he was going to give me some calls," Nelson said. "I told him I knew (Jefferson) pretty good and he sent me. The idea was that we were going to hit him early and get him rattled. We did that. I went after him full steam."
Robinson said it was just a case of trust.
"When you are around a guy for three years, you get a feel for what he's going to do," Robinson said. "That's what we have with a lot of these guys now. We had some calls for him. We started to give the defensive line some as we went into the game and they responded, too. I probably should have given them some more earlier than I did.
"We'd had some trouble earlier this year with the read zone and they like that play. We decided we'd go after that early. We were not going to let him set in there and run that option. Our idea was to pressure that read option. We knew it was coming. Jerico really understands our defense.
"I thought the defense played pretty well. The only thing I wish they would do a little better would be vision in the rush. When you are playing a quarterback like that, you have to cage him a little better. You have to know where he is and that's just vision. That's what we could do better.
"I thought we could have tackled better in the first half against their running back, but we did tackle that back in the second half. We kept coming and we kept hitting him."
The Tigers hit Mallett, too. He was sacked four times and scrambled for a 4-yard gain. He dodged the rush for a few completions and some throw aways.
"I thought he played pretty well," said Garrick McGee, offensive coordinator. "He's gotten better this year. This is an emotional game and it's hard to keep yourself grounded, but he's doing better and better.
"I had to calm him down once today. He was really wired up. I told him to go get a drink of water and settle himself down. He did. That's where he's improved the most.
"He made some great throws today, some outstanding throws. He obviously has some chemistry with (former high school teammate) Cobi Hamilton. You saw that today. That was a great throw to Joe with the rush coming at him.
"That play we've known we would use against LSU since the game down there last year. And when he got the chance, he stood in there and delivered it. Joe made a great double move on the guy.
"That was not a surprise when Coach Petrino called it. He'd been getting it ready for LSU all year."
Some of the post-game dealt with the bowl destination and the possibility that some of the underclassmen had played their final home game. McGee didn't bite on the last thought when Mallett's name came up.
"I don't know what he's going to do, but as far as guys around college right now, he's as good as there is," McGee said. "I know I'd like a chance to coach him again."
Robinson smiled when the Sugar Bowl was mentioned. He coached for the New Orleans Saints. He recruits Louisiana for the Razorbacks.
"Well, as you know, we'll have to make sure our guys keep focused," Robinson said. "There are a few distractions down there. But I think that would be a lot of fun to go to New Orleans. That would be a great trip. I think our guys would like that. I also think it would be a great educational experience for our guys, to learn and see what happened there with Hurricane Katrina.
"I think our guys would really like to see what that city has to offer. That would be an incredible experience."
Joe Adams sails into the end zone on a 39-yard pass from Ryan Mallett.
Knile Davis turns the corner against LSU.
Tenarius Wright sacks Jordan Jefferson.
Photos by Marc F. Henning, Hawgs Illustrated
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