And that was certainly the case Saturday against Arkansas. The stat sheets were pretty evenly matched across the board. But Les Miles focused on something that does not show up on the scorecard: determination.
"When they need to have the resolve to win, the defensive unit plays big," said Miles.
And despite the lack of any appealing numbers, the defense did step up.
Melvin Oliver continued to quietly throw together a monster season. He had nine tackles and three of those tackles added up to -17 yards. He also had three sacks and one quarterback hurry. But none of that would have mattered if the Tigers had not won. And much credit goes to Oliver for his efforts in stopping Arkansas.
The LSU defense found their backs against the wall in the fourth quarter. With the time ticking down, LSU was forced to punt from deep in their own territory. The Razorbacks fair-caught it at midfield. Arkansas was moving the ball by the aid of Houston Nutt trickery. For the second time in the game, a flee-flicker succeeded, bringing the Hogs to LSU's 33 yard line. On third and eleven from the 34, Oliver sacked quarterback Casey Dick for a seven yard loss. Now they were out of field goal range and were forced to go for it on fourth down. LaRon Landry pulled in an interception to punctuate another Tiger win. And in the process, they alleviated all of the ghosts of the Tennessee game.
"We did not want to have a second half letdown like we did against Tennessee," said Ronnie Prude. "We did not want to have that feeling again."
Miles also knew that field goal possibilities that could have panned out without Oliver's sack.
"We didn't think that he(Arkansas kicker Chris Balseiro) had a 51 yard field goal in him but if they'd lined up, I would have expected a fake," said Miles.
Although that was the crucial point of the game, it very well could have been an earlier Oliver sack that stopped Arkansas from sneaking out of Baton Rouge with a win.
Late in the third quarter, Arkansas scored on a 29 yard touchdown pass to Cedric Washington. Darren McFadden made the two point conversion and the score was 19-11 in LSU's favor. On the ensuing drive was Justin Vincent's fumble. This led to the first flee-flicker that eventually led to another touchdown to make it 19-17.
JaMarcus Russell quickly ended the Tiger drive with an interception. In two drives, LSU had two turnovers while Arkansas had two touchdowns. If Arkansas continued that trend then they would take the lead.
Not if the defensive line had a say.
The defensive front stopped the Hog momentum in extreme fashion. The first play was a Chase Pittman tackle for an eight yard loss. The ensuing play was the Melvin Oliver sack to make it third and 21. Pittman stopped Felix Jones for a -2 yard loss. So, Arkansas was forced to punt. Again, they rose to the occasion when the lead was in question.
"When you are playing with the lead, you can lose focus," said Miles. "I don't think this team can feel the pressure but they are a group of strong men who love the competition."
The competition manifests itself in many ways.
"It goes both ways," said Rudy Niswanger. "When you are going against great guys every day, sometimes you get into a game and it seems like things are slowing down. We go against great guys like Kyle (Williams), Claude (Wroten), Melvin (Oliver) and Chase (Pittman) every day, you get into the game and it is kind of a relief."
It is a relief that the Razorback running game never experienced. They held Darren McFadden to 57 yards on the ground. And after accounting for sacks and tackles for loss, they allowed Arkansas 35 yards on 34 carries.
Williams, Wroten, and Oliver were 3 of the 21 seniors who took part in Senior Day before the game to honor their last home game as players. And although Miles was speaking for all of the guys, it is a particularly fitting testament for the defensive lineman.
"It was a great honor to walk the 21 seniors to the middle of the field at the eye of the tiger," said Miles. "There is a lot of character there."
Oliver's sack key in Tiger win over Arkansas
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