Understandably, the Tigers’ players quickly shifted their attention to another game of the century this month when No. 3-ranked Arkansas (10-1, 6-1) visits Baton Rouge Friday to take on No. 1 LSU (11-0, 7-0).
Though the Tigers-Razorbacks rivalry has never really taken off like SEC powers hoped it would when they started pitting the two teams against each other starting in 1992, the series has definitely provided its share of memorable moments, especially recently.
Perhaps more to the point, Arkansas has played spoiler more than LSU would have liked and nearly knocked the Tigers 2007 national championship hopes off the track.
Last year’s loss was just as painful, albeit without the top-shelf implications that the 50-48 triple-overtime stunner caused in 2007.
With a Sugar Bowl berth on the line, Arkansas outplayed LSU, using three long pass plays for touchdowns and a time-consuming fourth-quarter drive to humble a Tigers’ defense that had been rock-solid for the month leading up the season finale.
Now, there’s more on the line for both teams and that made the celebration period after the biggest win ever against Ole Miss a little less than usual.
“They’re a team with a lot to play for,” linebacker Ryan Baker said, noting that the prep work for Arkansas began on the way home. “We’re expecting a lot from them and they’re going to get the best from us.”
That wasn’t the case a year ago.
Not only did the Tigers’ defense show some unexpected cracks, allowing 464 yards – 320 passing to strong-armed but immobile Ryan Mallett – but the offense inexplicably never got comfortable. LSU scratched out 294 yards and only 100 of that came on the ground against a suspect Razorbacks’ defense.
“We kind of felt like we gave that game away,” guard Will Blackwell said.
“It’s nice to finally get down to the last week knowing how good Arkansas is. A good football team, you always want to challenge yourself and measure where you are.”
Where the Tigers are right now is on the cusp of history and Arkansas is the next big hurdle in the way.
When the Hogs walk into the Tiger Stadium, it will be the matchup of the highest ranked teams since 1959 when No. 1 LSU entertained No. 3 Ole Miss.
With a victory, the Tigers finish the regular season unbeaten for the first time since 1958 and only the second time in the modern era and punch a ticket to the SEC Championship Game.
A loss doesn’t automatically end that chance or the possibility of getting an invite to the BCS Championship Game. But the easiest and most palatable option is what LSU coach Les Miles says will motivate his team this week.
“That’ll be an easy undertaking,” Miles said about getting the Tigers ready for Arkansas. “When you have a team that’s excited about preparing, we’ll get to Friday pretty fast. It will be one where our guys will enjoy preparing and be ready to play.”