A few feet away, defensive coordinator Reggie Herring choked back tears as he talked about how close Arkansas came to pulling off a big upset. Place kicker Chris Balseiro shook his head in disappointment as he replayed the frustrating end to his career, while right tackle Robert Felton sported a big grin as he looked to the future.
A variety of emotions swirled around Arkansas' locker room shortly after the Razorbacks' 19-17 loss to No. 3 LSU in front of 92,127 in Tiger Stadium. Sadness, joy, frustration and happiness all were on display after Arkansas battled back from a 19-3, third-quarter deficit, but, once again, swallowed a heart-breaking loss.
"That's the tough thing about it," receiver Cedric Washington said about the mixed emotions in the locker room. "You know the type of competition you're playing against and you know what you're capable of. To be that close in a situation like that and an environment like that, it's heart-breaking.
"But you can't help but to be proud because we fought so hard and we know we should've gotten this win."
In the end, LSU (10-1, 8-1 in Southeastern Conference) leaned on its stout defense and did just enough on offense to claim the SEC Western Division championship for the third time in four seasons. The Tigers, who will meet No. 13 Georgia in Atlanta's Georgia Dome next Saturday, also took advantage of Arkansas' struggling special teams to win their third straight against the Razorbacks.
"I think when you play for the championship and play with the lead and not for the lead, there's a chance to be a little less than focused," LSU coach Les Miles said. "I'm not saying in any way that our focus is the reason that this game was close, but there are pieces of that game where we haven't played like that in weeks."
LSU ran into more trouble than it expected after jumping out to a 19-3 lead with tailback Justin Vincent's 4-yard touchdown run.
Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden responded with the Hogs' first big play of the half when he fielded the ensuing kickoff and raced 81 yards to LSU's 17. But the Tigers buckled down, kept the Hogs out of the end zone and Arkansas walked way empty-handed when Balseiro's 28-yard field goal attempt hit the right post.
Balseiro also missed a 41-yarder in the first half.
"There's no excuse for us to be at the 15-, 18-yard line and not come up with at least three points," said Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. "Three points wins that ball game. We got zero. That's a killer."
It was a frustrating -- and costly -- moment, but the Hogs cut into LSU's lead on their next possession when Dick led the Hogs on a 7-play, 68-yard scoring drive.
Washington turned in the big play on the drive, catching a pass in the flat, turning upfield and slipping into the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown. McFadden got the Hogs into the end zone again on the 2-point conversion and Arkansas trailed 19-11.
The Razorbacks cut it even closer on their next possession, thanks to a trick play that fooled the Tigers. Dick threw a lateral to Washington, who came to Arkansas as a quarterback. The junior reared back and tossed a 45-yard pass to fullback Peyton Hillis, who was run out of bounds at LSU's 4.
McFadden, who was held to 57 yards on 24 carries, got into the end zone on a 1-yard plunge three plays to cut LSU's lead to 19-17. The two-point conversion failed when Dick's pass was intercepted by Chevis Jackson with 10:34 remaining.
"In the first half, as an offense, we were doing good in the first quarter and the second quarter we were making some mistakes," Felton said. "We came in at halftime and said, 'We've got to fight. We're not going to leave without fighting.'
"That's exactly what we did. We just fought."
Arkansas got a few more chances thanks to Herring's defense, which was determined to prove it had improved since its last appearance on national television against Southern California. LSU -- which gained 302 yards -- was held to 17 yards and 1 first down in the fourth quarter.
But LSU's defense, which ranked in the top 10 in the nation in four statistical categories before the game made up for the sloppiness when it mattered most.
The Tigers harassed Dick down the stretch and forced Arkansas to punt on two of its final three possessions. The third -- and final -- ended when Dick heaved a desperation pass that was intercepted by safety LaRon Landry at LSU's 7.
Arkansas got as close as LSU's 33 on the drive, but couldn't get close enough for another field goal attempt.
"I knew those last two drives they were going to come with it just because I'm a young quarterback," Dick said. "I've never played in a place like this. So I knew they were going to throw some blitzes and do some stuff like that just to confuse us."
Dick finished 12 of 28 passing for 148 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception in his fourth start. Washington caught 5 passes for 53 yards and Monk added 3 catches for 79 yards. Arkansas threw for a season-high 206 yards.
It was the only option after the ground game was held to a season-low 35 yards behind a makeshift line. Kyle Roper started at left guard in place of injured Stephen Parker, while Jeremy Harrell earned his second straight start at right guard.
"Time and time again, we turned to the defense and the defense came through," Miles said. "Our defense came to play."
In the meantime, LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell completed 13 of 29 passes for 194 yards with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. The Tigers didn't have much success in a scoreless first quarter, but eventually cracked Arkansas' defense to score 10 points in the first half.
The biggest came on a 50-yard touchdown pass from Russell to receiver Bennie Brazzell, who ran free through Arkansas' secondary. Cornerback Richardson turned Brazzell loose off the line of scrimmage and Kelly was left covering two streaking receivers. Russell hit Brazzell in stride for the first half's only touchdown.
"It was miscommunication between a couple of guys," Arkansas safety Vickiel Vaughn said. "(Kelly) got stretched to where it's hard to cover two people.
"It's miscommunication and it caught us off-guard and they capitalized on it."
The Tigers added to their lead late in the half when Arkansas made another costly mistake on special teams with 15 seconds left in the second quarter.
Long snapper Brett Goode skipped a snap to punter Jacob Skinner, who scooped up the ball but couldn't get off a punt. Skinner was tackled in the end zone by receiver Early Doucet and LSU extended its lead to 12-3.
The two points were the difference, but the Razorbacks wouldn't single out the safety as the culprit of its 11th-straight loss against Top 25 teams.
Arkansas dropped five games against Top 25 opponents and lost four by five points or less. Two of those losses came against LSU and Georgia (23-20), the SEC's Western and Eastern Division champions, respectively.
"We knew LSU was a great team and we were going to have to fight for each and every thing that we got," Vaughn said. "This team went out there ready for a dogfight and I thought we went out there and played our hearts out.
"These guys left it on the field. There's nothing more you can really ask for."
LSU Holds Off Arkansas For 19-17 Win
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