Tyrann Matthieu's 92-yard punt return for a score got top-ranked LSU all the way back from an early 14-0 deficit and then the Tigers went on to hammer No. 3 Arkansas 41-17 Friday before 93,108 fans at Tiger Stadium.
"Well, we got beat by a better football team," Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said. "You know they have played better offensively. Defensively, we started well, took the lead and then made some crucial errors.
"We gave them a punt return and the we didn't play very well two-minute defense after we fumbled the ball and were driving it in," Petrino added. "I think that was a huge turning point in this game."
LSU (12-0, 8-0) had five quarterback sacks while clinching a spot in next Saturday's SEC Championship game against Georgia with the win.
"This football team down 14 points did not flinch," Tigers head coach Les Miles said. "There was never a question in anyone's minds on the sideline that we were going to respond."
Miles lauded his team, which went to No. 2 Alabama and won 9-6 and has now beaten seven top 25 teams this season.
Jefferson passed for 206 yards, Kenny Hillard ran for 102 and Rueben Randle had nine catches for 132 yards.
The defense allowed the Razorbacks just 47 yards rushing.
"I think we have played a lot of good teams this season and we took on all comers," Miles said. "I think this team is a special team. They have quality leadership. They are a team that plays from behind, from ahead and in big games. I think the bigger the game, the better this team plays. I am proud of them."
Arkansas (10-2, 6-2) – whose only two losses came to top-ranked teams on the own field – will likely play in either the Capital One or Cotton bowls.
It ended a week that started with the tragic loss of Razorback redshirt freshman tight end Garrett Uekman, who passed away in his dorm room on Sunday due to an undiagnosed heart ailment.
"I am proud of my football team." Petrino said. "It has obviously been a tough week for us, but we did a good job in preparation. I thought we practiced well all week long. Our players came out, competed hard and stuck together as a team."
The game ended on a contentious note with Petrino voicing his opinion on LSU throwing for the end zone late in the game.
The meeting at midfield between coaches was brief and Miles was asked if words were exchanged.
"Not many," said the LSU coach.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Razorbacks jumped out to the lead on the first play of the second quarter.
Tyler Wilson (14-of-22 for 207 yards) hit Jarius Wright on a 13-yard touchdown strike that combined with Zach Hocker's PAT to put Arkansas up 7-0 at the 14:54 mark.
That capped an 11-play, 62-yard jaunt.
It quickly became 14-0 when Tramain Thomas' hit dislodged the ball from LSU tailback Michael Ford and Alonzo Highsmith picked it out of the air.
Highsmith raced to the end zone and the Razorbacks suddenly had a 14-0 lead when Hocker tacked on the PAT with 12:11 left before intermission.
"We came in here wanting to start quickly and score fast," Arkansas senior defensive end Jake Bequette said. "We had a big play on defense that made it 14-0 right off the bat."
But LSU got right back in the game with a 14-play, 77-yard drive that was aided by a 15-yard facemask penalty.
"After we had them in second and long, we got a facemask," Bequette said. "They just marked down the field."
Indeed Hillard's six-yard touchdown run and Drew Allman's PAT cut it to 14-7 with 5:15 left before halftime.
The Tigers tied it when the Razorbacks' Dylan Breeding – who had a 70-yard punt on his first boot of the day - messed up his directional attempt.
"That was a huge turning point in the game," Petrino said. "We were trying to get the ball punted to the sideline, but he mis-hit it a bit and punted it to the middle of the field. We had guys right there and he made a tremendous run. He made a great run and made us miss at the point of attack. He made a great play."
Arkansas appeared to be on its way to taking back before a Dennis Johnson fumble.
Johnson was ruled down at the LSU 39 before fumbling, but a review overturned the call.
Jefferson then led the Tigers to a touchdown before the half ended.
He capped a five-play, 66-yard drive with a nine-yard TD pass to Russell Sheppard to send LSU into the half with a 21-14 lead.
"I thought we were right where we wanted to be in the first half," Petrino said. "We had a chance to drive it and take the lead, but then the second half we didn't execute at all."
Miles thought his team's defensive pressre had Wilson unnerved at that point.
"The defense, even in the early going, was in and around that quarterback a lot," Miles said. "The plays that he made scrambling out, the plays he made under duress – and he did make some plays – it kind of told him that the pocket was not going to be a friendly place for him."
Petrino agreed with after the game.
"I think that caused him to not look down the field sometimes and certainly made a difference in the game," Petrino said.
Thomas' interception allowed Arkansas to drive the field early in the third quarter and Hocker's 29-yard field goal cut it to 21-17 at the 7:42 mark.
Allman's 21-yard field goal pushed the lead back to seven points late in the third quarter and the game entered the final fame with Tigers ahead 24-17.
It was all LSU in the fourth quarter with Ware scoring on a 4-yard run, Jefferson ripping off a 48-yard sash for a score and Alleman adding a 37-yard FG with 5:08 remaining.
"It was a rollercoaster," Wright said. "We have a good group of players and it's important for the team to be there for each other. We've had our ups and downs. We played a great team and they came out on top. They're the number one team in the nation.
"Of course we are upset about the loss and think we definitely could have finished better," Wright added. "Regardless of how it ended, the end of the game was very different than the way the game went the rest of the time. It definitely could have gone the other way."
Tramain Thomas makes the hit that forced a fumble and led to Alonzo Highsmith's return for a touchdown.
Highsmith heads to the end zone with Darius Winston as an escort after picking the fumble out of the air. His score put the Razorbacks up 14-0 in the second quarter.
Broderick Green picks up yardage in the first half.
Highsmith and Ross Rasner wrap up LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson.
Tyler Wilson was under constant pressure on Friday.