Tigers run past Arkansas 55-24

Arkansas and LSU met in a familiar position Saturday in Tiger Stadium. Like last season and the season before, a win in the regular season finale' would send the Tigers to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game. <br><br> Last year in Little Rock, Razorback quarterback Matt Jones drove a dagger into the Tigers with a long touchdown drive with less than one minute to play sending his team to the show.

This season, LSU disarmed Jones before halftime as 92,213 wind-whipped fans watched the Tigers slaughter the Razorbacks 55-24.

The win moves the Tigers into the conference title game for the second time in the last three seasons and also keeps alive LSU's hopes at a national championship game appearance in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans in early January. LSU's record improved overall to 11-1, 7-1 in the SEC while Arkansas fell to 8-4 overall, 4-4 in conference play.

"I'm very proud of our football team for a lot of reasons," said Tiger Head Coach Nick Saban. "We really dominated the game after we got going. I'm proud of the way our players played today. I'm also proud of the way we competed all season long."

Both teams exchanged punches throughout the first and early second quarters as each scored three times in the first 23 minutes of the game. But LSU throttled Arkansas on both sides of the ball and on special teams after that point leaving any hope of a Razorback upset far out of reach.

The Tigers were aided by five Razorback turnovers, three of which came in the first two quarters helping LSU score the last 17 points of the first half.

"When you play a team that good you can't give them gifts," Arkansas Coach Houston Nutt said. "That second quarter flurry really hurt."

LSU's championship game plans took an early hit as Matt Jones lobbed a screen pass along the west sideline to DeCori Birmingham who sprinted into the endzone untouched 54 yards later. The point after capped a three-play 61-yard drive that ran just 1:11 off the clock and gave the Razorbacks a 7-0 lead with 11:37 to play in the first quarter.

That was one of the few beneficial passes for Jones, however as he completed just three more passes the entire game for 100 yards, another touchdown and two interceptions. Tiger quarterback Matt Mauck excelled in a pressure situation again as he completed 12-19 passes for 186 yards and four touchdowns.

LSU's response came on the ensuing drive as Tiger tailback Justin Vincent carried his team to the Razorback 20 yard line with three runs of 10 yards or more. The LSU drive stalled just outside the red zone, though and the Tigers settled for a 38-yard Chris Jackson field goal into the teeth of a 25 mile per hour wind to cut the Arkansas lead to 7-3 with 6:26 left in the first quarter.

Vincent led the Tigers ground attack with 112 yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns. The LSU offense as a whole gained 250 rushing yards.

Jackson attempted to avoid the wind on the following kickoff by squibbing a line drive short of the Arkansas deep backs giving the Razorbacks decent field position at their own 33-yard line. But, after recovering his own fumble on the first snap of the drive, Jones fumbled on the second play as well as Tiger defensive end Marcus Spears knocked the ball clean and linebacker Eric Alexander recovered and scrambled 25-yards for a go-ahead LSU touchdown. Jackson's PAT gave his team a 10-7 advantage with 5:30 to play in the opening quarter.

The Razorbacks fought back on the next drive to tie the score as Jones and senior tailback Cedric Cobbs led their team to the Tiger 24-yard line before Chris Balseiro split the uprights on a 40-yard field goal to knot the score at 10-10 with 2:01 left in the first quarter.

That tie lasted exactly 2:44 as Tiger wideout Michael Clayton gave LSU a one- touchdown advantage by lunging over the south endzone goal line with a Razorback defender draped over his back. Clayton's effort not only gave the Tigers the lead but also gave him the LSU career record for receiving touchdowns with 20. Jackson's point after extended the lead to 17-10 less than one minute into the second quarter.

But the Razorbacks appeared anything but defeated by the quick LSU score as Cobbs ran off 76 yards on the Tiger defense in just two plays to help his team tie the score again. Cobbs' 56 and 20 yard runs ran just 22 seconds off the game clock before Balseiro added the tying point after with 13:40 to play before halftime.

Cobbs finished the contest with a game-high 169 rushing yards on 21 carries. The Razorbacks amassed 301 total yards of offense against a vaunted Tiger defense while LSU managed 436 total yards.

LSU appeared to be in position to break the tie again with a first and goal opportunity at the Razorback nine-yard line on its next drive. But the drive ended when Vincent was stripped of the ball at the Razorback 11.

The Tigers got another first and goal at the nine-yard line just six plays later as Arkansas failed to move the ball past its own 24-yard line after the Tiger fumble and Razorback punter Jacob Skinner dropped the snap on his fourth-down punt attempt.  Freshman defensive back Daniel Francis recovered the drop on special teams giving Mauck the chance to find Skyler Green open in the back of the endzone three plays later from two yards out with 6:35 left in the half to give the Tigers the lead again.

Jackson extended the Tiger lead to two scores with a 47-yard field goal on LSU's next offensive possession. The scoring drive ran 3:50 off the first-half clock and gave the Tigers a 27-17 advantage with 1:42 left in the second quarter.

Arkansas' Jones handed LSU its next scoring chance 30 seconds later by foolishly heaving a pass into the wind while eluding the Tiger blitz. Jones' lobbed ball was intercepted by Corey Webster at the Razorback 39 setting up Mauck's chance to find a wide-open Devery Henderson in the south endzone three plays later with 51 seconds left in the half. The point after extended the lead again, this time to 34-17 and sent the Arkansas players into the locker room with hanging heads.

The Razorbacks took the ball to begin the second half but were forced to punt after Matt Jones was sacked by Spears at the Arkansas 7-yard line. Three plays later, Mauck found LSU tight end David Jones unguarded deep in the Razorback defense for a 37-yard pass and catch to turn the once--tight contest in the direction of a route. Jackson's point after gave the Tigers a 41-17 lead after just a 17 second, two-play drive.

LSU kept on that route road on its next offensive chance by pounding the ball down the heart of the Razorback offense with long running plays. The most impressive of the lot was the last as Vincent burned past the Arkansas defensive backs for a 23-yard touchdown run capping a 57-yard drive and helping his team to a 48-17 advantage with 4:16 to play in the third quarter.

Webster contributed to the Tiger pile-on by hauling in his second interception on another ill-advised Matt Jones pass on Arkansas' ensuing drive. Webster's sixth interception of the season came at the Razorback 37 yard line giving Mauck and the Tigers another short scoring drive. Vincent finished this one with a two-yard scamper untouched into the north endzone to give LSU a 55-17 lead with less than one minute to play in the third quarter.

Arkansas added a late fourth-quarter touchdown on a 16-yard pass from Matt Jones to Birmingham to wrap up the scoring for the contest.

LSU's SEC Championship opponent could be determined on the field tomorrow, especially if Tennessee loses to Kentucky in which case Florida would play the Tigers. However, there is a chance either Tennessee, Georgia or Florida could play LSU next Saturday in Atlanta.

"This victory is for everyone in Louisiana who cares about LSU football." Saban said. "This is for everyone who has supported this team."

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