Tigers top Razorbacks 31-26 - await bowl bid

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas' home-away-from-home is usually quite accommodating for the Razorbacks.

Under coach Houston Nutt, the Hawgs were 20-1 when playing in Little Rock coming into the annual day-after-Thanksgiving clash with the LSU Tigers.

 

Ironically, Nutt's only loss at War Memorial Stadium was a 43-14 drubbing at the hands of the Tigers in 2004, LSU's last visit to "The Rock."

 

Well, make that two in a row now.

 

No. 8 LSU spoiled 5th-ranked Arkansas' hopes of a possible national championship berth and a perfect record in SEC play with a 31-26 victory at War Memorial Stadium last Friday.

 

Trindon Holliday returned a kickoff 92 yards in the fourth quarter for the game-clinching score, and LSU's defense held down the stretch as the Tigers defeated the Razorbacks for the fourth straight time.

 

"It feels very weird to lose," Nutt said. "It's a bad feeling.  I would much rather have it the other way; it's much more fun that way."

 

LSU (10-2, 6-2 SEC) now must wait for the outcome of the SEC Championship Game to determine in which bowl the Tigers will land. Arkansas (10-2, 7-1 SEC) had already clinched the SEC Western Division title and will face No. 4 Florida in the title game in Atlanta.

 

Although the Tigers aren't in the title game, LSU coach Les Miles feels his team is as good as the divisional representatives and deserves a BCS bowl berth.

 

"We've made a case for the BCS, certainly," Miles said. "When they're picking the best team from the SEC, they'll have something to talk about. We have had the distinct impression that we were the best team in the SEC West. The SEC West Champion is Arkansas, but we're right there."

 

All four of the Tigers'road opponents were ranked in the top eight, with three of them (Auburn, Florida and Arkansas) all being ranked in the top five. The Razorbacks sported the league's longest winning streak (10 games) and had not lost since a 50-14 thumping in the season opener by Southern California.

 

"This is a tremendous victory," Miles said. "Arkansas has a really good football team.  It took a special effort today.  It's so hard to prepare for what Arkansas has to offer."

 

What Arkansas has to offer comes in the form of a two-headed monster in the offensive backfield consisting of tailbacks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. Coming into the game, LSU's defense had not allowed a running back to eclipse the 100-yard mark throughout its 11 games.

 

Last Friday, not only did McFadden rush for 182 yards on 21 carries and two scores, Jones broke the century mark as well running for 137 yards on 16 carries with a touchdown.

 

"We knew they had two of the best running backs in the country coming into the game, so our focus was to stop them," said LSU defensive end Chase Pittman. "We did not do a great job of it, but well enough to hold on for the victory."

 

McFadden broke free on an 80-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to draw Arkansas as close as 24-19. LSU had just scored on a 7-yard touchdown pass from JaMarcus Russell to Early Doucet, raising LSU's advantage to 24-12.

 

McFadden broke free on the Hawgs' first offensive play following the Doucet touchdown to put the pressure back on the Tigers. But LSU counter-punched with Holliday's impressive kick return, and Arkansas never fully recovered.

 

"To answer right there (after Darren McFadden's 80-yard TD run), the very next play, is so huge," Miles said. "When (Holliday) gets out in front, he's tough to catch."

 

Arkansas managed to score again when Jones answered Holliday's return with a lengthy one of his own. But Jones' 5-yard touchdown run with 4:53 left in the game wasn't enough as the LSU defense dug in for one last-gasp effort with less than a minute left.

 

"It makes losing even harder when you're that close," Jones said. "We just have to take it as a stepping stone and learn from it. We can't blame anyone. We played our best."

 

With no time-outs remaining, Arkansas again took over with 2:04 remaining after an LSU punt went only 22 yards to the Arkansas 27-yard line.

 

Rather than using McFadden or Jones in their two-minute attack, the Hogs relied on quarterback Casey Dick.

 

Four passes later – all four passes broken up by the LSU secondary – and the Tigers were on their way to victory.

 

LSU won despite allowing the Hogs to score three times on the ground and total 298 net yards on 39 carries.

 

Meanwhile, Russell controlled the game by completing 14 of 22 passes for 210 yards. Keiland Williams spearheaded the LSU rushing attack in the first half, while Alley Broussard, Jacob Hester and Justin Vincent took the bulk of the load in the second half.

Williams finished with 68 yards on 13 carries, including a 29-yard touchdown sprint for LSU's first score.

 

Dwayne Bowe led the Tiger receiving corps with five catches for 68 yards and a few key blocks that opened holes for the LSU running game. Buster Davis added three catches for 72 yards, while Hester caught three balls for 44 yards.

 

Dick, who started the final three regular-season games for the Hogs, wasn't much of a threat when he wasn't handing off to McFadden or Jones. He finished 3-of-17 passing with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Monk and a key interception late in the fourth quarter that set up Doucet's score.

 

McFadden, who lined up in the shotgun in several formations, was 2-of-2 passing for 33 yards.

 

LSU won the toss to open the game for the 10th time this season and elected to defer its decision to the second half.

 

Arkansas took advantage by storming 80 yards down the field in six plays, capped by a 1-yard McFadden run on third-and-goal.

 

However, the PAT was missed by Jeremy Davis to give Arkansas a 6-0 lead with 12:30 left in the first quarter.

 

Later in the quarter, LSU answered with a six-play drive of its own that spanned 70 yards.

 

LSU overcame a holding penalty that forced second-and-long from near midfield when Russell connected with Bowe for 22 yards for a first down in Arkansas territory.

 

On the next play, Williams bounced around the right end and outran the Arkansas secondary for a 29-yard touchdown run – his third of the season.

 

Colt David's PAT gave LSU a 7-6 lead with 4:51 to play in the first quarter.

 

On its first possession of the second quarter, LSU wasted little time increasing its lead to 14 points. A 20-yard catch by Davis gave the Tigers a first down inside Arkansas territory.

 

Facing a third-and-13 after a sack, the 6-foot-6 Russell connected with Davis for a 47-yard touchdown catch and run.

 

The PAT by David gave LSU a 14-6 lead with 10:55 to play in the half.

 

Arkansas kept the game close with another touchdown of its own midway through the quarter, cutting the LSU lead to 14-12 after a 21-yard reception and run by Marcus Monk.

 

The two-point conversion that would have tied the game sailed over the head of Jones, and LSU would take a 14-12 lead into the locker room.

 

On their first drive of the second half, the Tigers marched 70 yards in 15 plays but couldn't poke the ball across the Arkansas goal line and were forced to settle for a 27-yard field goal by David.

 

LSU led 17-12 with 7:24 left in the third quarter.

 

Near the end of the third quarter, LSU again penetrated Arkansas territory and entered the red zone on a run by Broussard. However, on his second effort, the LSU running back fumbled at the Arkansas 17.

 

On the ensuing possession, the Tigers defense came up with a huge stop on fourth down when Rickey Jean-Francois sacked Dick for a 15-yard loss in LSU territory.

 

On the first play after an LSU punt, Dick was picked off by LSU safety LaRon Landry, who returned 19 yards to the Arkansas 9-yard line.

 

On third-and-goal from the 7, Russell notched his 26th touchdown pass of the season finding Doucet, who wrestled the ball from an Arkansas defender for the score.

 

After the David PAT, LSU led 24-12.

 

On the next play from scrimmage after a touchback, McFadden darted through the LSU line for an 80-yard touchdown that closed the gap to 24-19 with 10:31 to play in the game.

 

Holliday showed his stuff by returning the kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown and a 31-19 lead.

 

Then, after a 63-yard kickoff return by Jones, Arkansas narrowed the gap to 31-26 with a nine-play, 37-yard drive that took more than five minutes off the clock.

 

With 4:53 left in the game, Jones scored around the right side. But Arkansas would get no closer.


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