REPORT CARD: LSU vs. Arkansas

A win, is a win, is a win, is a win.

No matter how you slice, dice it, analyze any aspect of LSU's 19-17 nail-biter of a victory over Arkansas last Friday afternoon, the end result is a victory for LSU.

Nine in a row, 10 overall in Les Miles' first season in Baton Rouge.

The Tigers are one win away from matching Nick Saban's longest winning streak in Baton Rouge, a 10-game run that included the last eight games of the 2003 season (including a national title) and the first two of the 2004 season.

Not too shabby for a guy that was booed off the field in his coaching debut in Tiger Stadium following a loss to Tennessee earlier this season in overtime.

Friday's two-point over the Razorbacks wasn't pretty. It is difficult to recall a game this year that was. There is one thing about these Tigers, they aren't going to win many games with style points, but in the end they just win.

It was noted following Friday's victory, five of LSU's victories this season have come by four points or less.

Let's see…. there's the 34-31 win at Arizona State, a 21-17 win over Florida, a 20-17 victory against Auburn, the 16-13 thriller in Tuscaloosa over Alabama and, ah yes, the day after Thanksgiving duel with created rival Arkansas.

"The Battle for the Boot" it is called.

The powers that be felt as if LSU needed a rival. Ole Miss was the Tigers most hated opponent for years. But NCAA probation and limited success over the lat 20 or so years has really taken the umph out of LSU-Mississippi. However, LSU's lead 5-4 over the past nine games

Some consider LSU and Alabama rivals. Tiger fans may say the Tigers and Tide are bitter foes, but Bama has dominated the series for years. However, LSU has now won three straight and four of the last five.

So the logical decision was Arkansas. The teams' states share borders and together they form a boot configuration suitable to plate with 24 karat gold.

While some folks scoff at the post Thanksgiving turkey brawl, the series has actually been a fairly good one. While LSU tends to out-talent Arkansas all over the place, highly emotional and charismatic Razorback coach Houston Nutt always seems to get his Hogs extremely high for this game.

Sure LSU fans groaned in disgust (and relief) when the final horn sounded Friday and the Tigers weathered a rally from Arkansas to win by two points. But really, did you expect anything less.

Aside from last seasons sound 43-14 licking of Arkansas in Little Rock, the LSU-Arkansas series may be one of the most competitive in all of the SEC, maybe even college football.

The "Battle for the Boot" began in 1996, and although LSU holds a 7-3 lead over the Hogs over the course of 10 games, the Tigers have won 41-38 in 2001, rallied for a 55-24 win in 2003 and lost the thriller in 2002 21-20. Arkansas dashed LSU's SEC West title hopes with a 14-3 win in 2000 in a rainy Little Rock.

At any rate, there should be no grumbling or groaning about Friday's win. Albeit it was an ugly win, but in terms of getting back to the SEC title game, that was all that mattered.

The offense was awful, the defense kept the Tigers in the game and special teams won the game with a safety. Miles admitted his team may have grouped Arkansas in the same category as Ole Miss from a week earlier, which was totally not the case.

Miles said his team may have overlooked the Hogs a bit. The Razorbacks are a very young team that got superb play from its freshmen tandem of quarterback Casey Dick and running back Darren McFadden. In typical Nutt fashion, he got everything out of an outmanned team and it almost spoiled LSU's dreams of an SEC title.

But, in the end, it resulted in another "W" for LSU, which in the long run is all that matters. Some have said the near-upset with Arkansas may hurt LSU in the BCS polls, but again does that matter. It is pretty obvious USC and Texas are headed for the Rose Bowl.

All LSU can hope for is to win the SEC title game and get to the Sugar Bowl, which at last glance, is exactly where they are headed.

The Offense:

After a stellar showing at Ole Miss, the Tiger offense took a major step back.

The Tigers managed a mere 302 total yards of offense and 19 points (17 on offense) against a defense that earlier this year gave up 70 points and 600-plus yards to Southern Cal.

While JaMarcus Russell still ranks second in the SEC in passing efficiency, he took a major step back in terms of being embraced by the Tiger faithful as a top notch SEC quarterback. Russell completed just 13 of 29 passes for 194 yards and threw a pair of interceptions.

On the flip side of that, though, his 50-yard touchdown pass to Bennie Brazell in the second quarter was a thing of beauty. Plus, toss in the fact his receivers dropped seven passes and you might could cut Russell some slack.

The running game was slowed by a hobbled Joseph Addai. The senior tailback has never fully recovered from a tweaked ankle in the North Texas game. He has re-aggravated it in every game.

Justin Vincent got dinged early in the game but did come back to play. The lack of a running game put pressure on Russell and the passing game and may have caused more problems than usual for the passing attack.

There is no question Miles prefers big, physical receivers a la Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis. But he has got to get the ball to Skyler Green more often. Green did have three catches for 45 yards on Friday to lead the team. The things he does after catching the ball makes up for his 5-9 height.

LSU's big play receiver Bowe had a case of the drops again bobbling away three passes.

Overall, the Tigers obviously sat on a lead through most of Friday's game thinking Arkansas would roll over and die. It didn't happen and it nearly cost them the game. If LSU doesn't take a more proactive approach to offense in Atlanta, Georgia will win the game.

Grade: C+

The Defense:

LSU has really only put together one complete game this season – at Ole Miss.

In every other game, one aspect of the Tigers' game is good or bad or average, anything but consistent. However, one phase of this LSU team that has shown up every game, minus the first two, is the defense.

After giving up tons of yards against Arizona State and Tennessee, the defense has buckled down and literally shut down every offense aside from a really good Kenny Irons from Auburn.

The Tigers front four spends more time in opposing backfield than the oppositions own players and make big play after big. Melvin Oliver's sack of Casey Dick in the waning moments Saturday may have saved the Tigers season for Arkansas was knocking on the door to attempt a game-winning field goal.

Oliver finished the game, his final in Tiger Stadium, with nine tackles, three for losses and three sacks totaling 17 yards in losses.

Fellow senior linemates Kyle Williams and Claude Wroten continue to dominate the interior line holding Arkansas' hotshot freshman tailback Darren McFadden to 57 yards on 24 carries.

LaRon Landry made the game-clinching interception following a desperation heave by Dick on four and long on the game's final play for the Razorbacks. While the pick was a big one, Landry dropped two other interceptions in the game and has done so more times this year than he would care to remember.

The only criticism of this defense, as it has been all season long, is its inability to force turnovers.

Grade: A

Special Teams:

This week LSU converted its only field goal attempt. Colt David knocked home a 26-yarder in the second quarter.

Chris Jackson punted seven times for a 40.6 yard average and the special teams produced the eventual game-winning safety when Early Doucet dropped Arkansas punter Jacob Skinner just before halftime.

But the most glaring problem for the Tigers right now is Skyler Green's inability to return a punt. While Skinner did a great job booming kick after kick keeping the ball in the air long enough to force Green to call for a fair catch, LSU needs to do something in the way of changing blocking assignments to give Green the necessary crease he needs to break a punt return.

Auburn was the last team that really gave Green anything to return and the senior made them pay bringing the punt back for a score.

Green did make one boo-boo late in the fourth quarter when he didn't field a punt at the 20, which rolled all the way down to the five where LSU went three and out giving the Hogs the ball at midfield after a punt.

Overall, though, a solid day.

Grade: B

Coaching:

Is your glass half full? Or half empty?

LSU fans sometimes like to look on the negative side of things so one opinion might be that Miles blew a 19-3 lead allowing Arkansas to nearly come back and register the upset.

Others may feel Miles was able to keep his team composed, even when the Razorbacks, rallied and got the job done when the game was on the line.

Week after week the games are close, but the Tigers keep winning. Is it luck or is Miles doing something right here? It seems more of the latter.

Grade: A

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