So, just to be on the safe side, the Tigers won by two points, as 92,127 fans and a national television audience watched the Razorbacks give LSU a little post-Thanksgiving heartburn in a 19-17 hometown victory that was in doubt until 20 seconds remained in the fourth quarter.
The win finished LSU's regular season at 10-1, 7-1 in the ever-demanding SEC and moved LSU into a championship game showdown against Georgia next Saturday in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Arkansas finished its year 4-7 overall, just 2-6 in the conference.
The Tigers held a seemingly-safe 19-3 lead early in the third quarter after tailback Justin Vincent plowed into the south endzone from four yards away. But, the Tigers scored no more while Arkansas trick-played and good-old-fashioned defended its way to 14 unanswered points.
The Razorbacks were led by a pair of true freshmen in quarterback Casey Dick and tailback Darren McFadden who were largely responsible for the Hogs' two second-half touchdowns. Dick found wide receiver Cedrick Washington for a 29-yard touchdown with 4:16 to play in the third quarter and McFadden added the two-point conversion run to cut the Tiger lead to 19-11.
McFadden then scored on a 1-yard plunge with 10:34 remaining in the game to cut the lead to 19-17. An interception of a Dick pass on the ensuing two-point try by Chevis Jackson kept the Hogs from tying the game.
LSU and Arkansas then traded possessions and defensive punches like prize fighters hanging on the ropes. The Razorbacks held the field-position advantage late, starting every fourth quarter drive from their 35 or better including a 50-yard line start to their last drive of the game. LSU, meanwhile, was constantly mired inside its own 25 and failed to gain one first down in the fourth quarter.
The Razorbacks moved to the LSU 33 in the waning moments of the game on a 4th-and-6 completion from McFadden on a roll to the left to Marcus Monk. But, the Razorbacks failed to move any closer to what could have been game-winning field goal range. Dick was sacked for a seven-yard loss on third down by Tiger defensive end Melvin Oliver and then harassed again by Oliver on a fourth down heave that landed in the hands of Tiger safety LaRon Landry at the 7-yard line, ending the threat.
Arkansas missed several opportunities to score throughout the contest including a missed, 28-yard field goal by Chris Balseiro early in the third quarter following an 89-yard kickoff return by McFadden. Arguably, Arkansas would have won the game if not for a botched punt in the endzone that resulted in a LSU safety late in the first half.
"That really hurt us," said Arkansas Coach Houston Nutt. "There's no excuse to get the ball at that close early in the third quarter and not come away with at least three points. Every yard was crucial in this game, every foot."
McFadden entered the contest as the second-best rusher in the SEC, averaging 105.6 yards per game just four yards behind Auburn's Kenny Irons. While Irons gashed the Tigers for 218 yards earlier in the season in an overtime LSU win, McFadden was held to 57 on the ground. But, he was arguably the most valuable player of the game to his team when the 89-yard return, two point conversion and 13-yard pass are factored in.
LSU's stingy and often stifling defense held the Razorbacks to just 241 total yards. But the Tiger offense countered with 302 and the Hogs even held a slight advantage in passing yards thanks to two completions of 45 yards or more. Dick finished the game 12-28 for 148 yards, one touchdown and an interception.
LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell ended with 13 completions in 29 attempts for 194 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Vincent led all rushers with 59 yards on 20 carries and one touchdown despite leaving in the first quarter limping after a hard tackle inside the Arkansas 5-yard line. LSU's second-leading rusher, Joseph Addai, left hurt in the first half as well and did not return.
"Credit is due Arkansas," said LSU Coach Les Miles. "They came in here and played very
emotionally. We (LSU) certainly did not play our best in several ways. But, if
you look at it, time and time again the defense came through. We won, and it
LSU deferred the opening kick to the second half, then proceeded to give the Razorbacks an out-of-bounds kick off gift, staking Arkansas to a first down at the 35. The Razorbacks picked up 11 yards on their first three plays but stalled after that and punted.
The Tigers started at their 15 and moved gingerly forward in two plays but took a 5-yard hit on third down with an illegal formation penalty. Chris Jackson was forced to punt form his endzone setting the Razorbacks with excellent field position at their 49 to start the ensuing drive.
McFadden rumbled for 16 yards on the first three plays of the drive and Dick and Monk connected for 11 more, but the Razorback push ended at the Tiger 23 forcing Balseiro to attempt a 40-yard field goal that he pulled left of the uprights. LSU took over at its 24.
The Tigers again failed to pick up a first down, but Jackson was able to turn the field position struggle in LSU's favor by driving a 50-yard punt to the 18. The Razorbacks helped the Tigers as well with an offensive pass interference penalty that forced a punt from the goal line to the Razorback 43.
The field position turn around was the impetus LSU needed to pick up its initial first down of the game and eventually drive the ball to the Razorback 2-yard line. But, a vicious tackle sidelined Vincent on first down at the 4-yard line and a false start on third down forced Colt David to kick a 26-yard field goal that capped the 11-play drive and gave LSU a 3-0 lead with 13:24 left in the half.
Arkansas punted from its endzone after its next chance, giving the Tigers another start with excellent field position. One play later, Russell shook off the Razorback rush and launched a 50-yard bomb to wide-open Bennie Brazell, who was running alone behind the defense. Brazell skipped untouched into the endzone and the Tigers took a 10-0 lead with 10:50 to play in the half.
The Razorbacks turned around the momentum two minutes later with a first-down, 55-yard strike from Dick to Monk, giving the Razorbacks a first down at the Tiger 22-yard line. Arkansas gained 11 more yards two plays later on a questionable roughing the passer call against LSU but gained no more, giving Balseiro the chance to atone for his earlier field goal miss. The 30-yard, 3-pointer ended a five-play, 64-yard drive and cut the Tiger lead to 10-7 with 7:22 to play.
LSU failed to respond and Jackson was again forced to punt, giving the Razorbacks a chance to start at their 45. Arkansas made it to midfield but no farther and LSU took possession with 4:12 left in the half at its 23.
The Tigers moved to the Razorback 38, but stalled and Russell was intercepted trying to find Brazell on a 3rd-and -12 at the Razorback 8-yard line. A false start penalty on first down followed by a tackle for a loss of McFadden led to another Tiger score. Punter Jacob Skinner was a couple of steps from the end line when he fielded a poor snap from the 5-yard line. Skinner was quickly overwhelmed with 12 seconds left in the half by the Tiger rush, led by Early Doucet who smothered the punter under the south endzone goal posts for the second LSU safety in as many weeks. The extra two points sent LSU to the half with a 12-3 advantage.
Senior kick returner Skyler Green gave the Tigers the chance to extend their lead on the first possession of the second half with a masterful, weaving 40-yard return of the second- half kick that LSU fans have become accustomed to seeing over the last three seasons.
Fifty yards and nine plays later, Vincent carried half the Arkansas defense on his back from the 4-yard line, giving LSU 19-3 lead with 10:40 to play in the third quarter.
But, the Razorbacks quickly snared the momentum on their own remarkable kick off return. McFadden sprinted 89 yards before being knocked out of bounds at the Tiger 17 by Daniel Francis. But, the Tiger defense along with Balseiro turned the momentum arrow back to LSU when the Razorback kicker missed another field goal, this time from 28 yards away.
The Razorbacks didn't miss on their second chance of the second half however, as McFadden and Dick moved their team down the field in seven plays to cut the Tiger lead to eight points. Dick connected with Washington on a 29- yard touchdown reception and McFadden added the two-point conversion on an untouched toss sweep to make the score 19-11 LSU with 4:16 remaining in the third quarter.
LSU's response was a 10-play drive that moved the ball from its 11-ayrd line all the way to the Arkansas 35. But, on that 10th play, Vincent dropped a 2nd-and-1 handoff and Arkansas claimed control of the football with 13:10 to play.
The Razorbacks then reached deep into the trick bag on the fourth play of the ensuing drive as Dick passed to Washington to the left behind the line if scrimmage who then found a wide-open Hillis deep in LSU territory to the right for a 45-yard completion and a first down at the 5-yard line. Three plays later, McFadden pounded his way into the endzone to cut the lead to 19-17 with 10:34 remaining in the game. But the Hogs were unable to tie the score when Tiger cornerback Chevis Jackson intercepted a pass intended for Monk in the endzone.
The Tigers went on to win the contest despite another fourth quarter turnover that gave Arkansas excellent field position at its 46-yard line.
"We get another SEC opponent and we look forward to that," Miles said of next
weeks SEC Championship Game. "I think our team can focus fully on a game plan
and understand the fact we did not play well against Arkansas. We need to
practice and there's always room to improve."