Last week Les Miles learned a thing or two about managing a comeback drive.
In Oxford came a mixture of last-minute missteps that resulted in a loss.
Saturday night in Death Valley, Miles found himself in an eerily similar situation.
With 1:19 to play, LSU was in a hole they seemed far from falling into before the half.
In the opening frame, the Tigers had done a little bit of it all.
Chad Jones intercepted Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett at the LSU five-yard line on the game’s opening drive.
Following an LSU punt, a 27-yard reception from Mallett to Greg Childs moved the ball back into Tiger territory. Strong throughout the first half, the bend-don’t-break LSU defense held Arkansas to a field goal, the game’s opening points.
Then came a little flash-and-dash, a combination of Trindon Holliday and Russell Shepard that LSU fans have been wanting - but not getting - all season.
After Holliday’s kickoff return moved the ball out to the LSU 40-yard line, Shepard combined for 11 yards on the opening two plays of the drive. Holliday followed with two runs for a combined 31 yards before quarterback Jordan Jefferson found two open receivers in the end zone – Terrance Tolliver and Brandon LaFell.
“The cornerback let me go, so I was sitting wide open ready to get it for the easy touchdown,” Toliver said. “All the sudden [LaFell] just came and grabbed it.”
The catch moved LaFell two touchdown receptions closer to tying Dwayne Bowe’s all-time LSU record of 26.
Up 7-3, LSU forced a Razorback punt, where Holliday’s 23-yard return gave the Tigers starting field position inside Arkansas territory.
After Shepard picked up eight yards on first down, running back Stevan Ridley was bottled up for no gain. LSU’s third down call saw Shepard take the snap before the line broke down, causing a loss of two yards. The Tigers settled for a 47-yard Josh Jasper field goal, which extended the LSU lead to 10-3.
Keep reading for more on Jasper.
The start of the second quarter brought Tiger Stadium to their feet with the biggest roars of the night, once again courtesy of No. 8.
After a first quarter where Holliday recorded 78 total yards on four touches, the fastest man in LSU football history gave Death Valley something to scream about – a feat he seems better at than most (his entrance out of the tunnel during the presentation for the seniors drew arguably the loudest cheers).
After fielding the punt at the 13-yard line, Holliday did what he does best: hit the hole, the corner and then the end zone, giving LSU the 17-3 lead just over two minutes into the quarter.
“Tonight was senior night, so I told myself I wanted to come out and do something to remember my last game in Tiger Stadium,” Holliday said. “That punt return is something I think I’ll definitely remember.”
From there, LSU coordinator Gary Crowton’s offense fizzled.
Following the Razorback’s third punt of the game, the unit sputtered after back-to-back rush plays moved the ball near midfield. After a loss of one-yard by Jefferson, the Tigers were hit with a substitution penalty – something all too common for Crowton’s bunch in 2009 – that pushed the down and distance to 2nd and 16. Two plays later, the punt crew was back out on the field.
When the Tiger defense quickly managed a three-and-out, LSU seemed in prime position to put the game away.
Up 17-3 and having pinned the Razorbacks inside their own five-yard line, a Jasper field goal – at the least – would have separated the sides by more than two touchdowns.
Instead, the visitors caught their first big break.
Holliday, who had been red-hot through the opening two quarters with 125 all-purpose yards on five touches, misfielded the punt and allowed the Razorbacks to recover.
“If Trindon didn’t muff that punt, we might get away from them,” Miles said.
After the sides swapped punts, Mallett, who took the ball over with 1:51 left before halftime, drove the Razorbacks on a nine-play, 38-yard drive that culminated in Alex Tejada’s second field goal of the game.
Through the first half, Mallett was 7-of-20 passing for 91 yards, while Jefferson went 4-of-6 passing for 33 yards and a touchdown.
Ridley’s six touches for 34 yards led all Tigers, while the Razorbacks’ Dennis Johnson’s 43 yards on four carries led all rushers.
In the opening half, the LSU defense had held the high-powered Arkansas attack to 91 passing yards and 51 rushing yards.
The second half wasn’t as kind to defensive coordinator John Chavis.
“I looked at it and thought the defense played so well in the first half and fought and hung in there in the second [half],” Miles said.
After Tejada’s field goal before half, Arkansas put together a scoring drive on every possession of the second half (4).
When Jefferson was intercepted on his first pass of the third quarter, Ronnie Wingo Jr. rushed three times for 27 total yards and the touchdown, which brought the score to 17-13.
LSU answered with a nine-play, 67-yard drive that culminated in a Jefferson touchdown pass to tight end Deangelo Peterson, his second touchdown grab of the season.
The good news was that LSU was up 24-13, and Jefferson had gone nine snaps without being forced into a third down.
The bad news was that, with over seven minutes left in the third quarter, the Tigers wouldn’t find the end zone again for the rest of the game.
Slowly, the Razorbacks chipped away at the LSU lead.
After Peterson’s touchdown, Mallett found Childs for their second big hook-up on the evening – which moved the ball inside the red zone.
Three plays later, Broderick Green rushed eight yards for the touchdown, which brought the visitors within four points with more than a quarter to play.
Arkansas forced another LSU punt, and Mallett found Childs for another game-changing moment – this time an 18-yard catch that moved the Razorbacks into LSU territory.
You know the mentality by now.
Once again, the defense slowed the visitors enough to force a field goal, which Tejada hit to move the score to 24-23.
In a battle that decides the winner of the Golden Boot, it is only fitting that the game would be decided on boots from both sides.
First came a 47-yarder from Jasper, which moved LSU back out front by four points with 4:05 to play.
On what was assumed to be the game’s final drive, the Tiger defense – so sound in the first half but quiet for much of the second – allowed Mallett to convert a 3rd and 10, 3rd and 20, and 4th and 9 en route to the go-ahead touchdown.
Down 30-27, with 1:12 left on the clock, all eyes were on Miles.
Would the headman who fell flat on his face just seven days prior be able to move his team down the field and force overtime?
The answer was simple: yes.
Miles, with the calls coming down from Crowton, saw his team march 41 yards with only one timeout to set up a 41-yard field goal attempt with – those still low over the Ole Miss loss, hold your breath – nine seconds left on the clock.
Instead of taking a shot at the end zone, Miles sent his special teams unit onto the field without hesitation – and Jasper nailed the kick, his third make from outside 40-yards on the evening.
After dissention in the final-minute play-calls a week prior, Miles said he and Crowton were in sync during Saturday’s final minute.
“[Crowton] has the best overview,” Miles said. “The view from the press box is the right view.”
At 30-30, the sides went into overtime.
LSU’s offense took the field first, settling for – no surprise – Jasper, who nailed his 36-yard attempt.
After the Tiger defense forced a three-and-out, Tejada’s tying kick went wide right.
Once again, Miles and his men had pulled out a victory that left fans biting their nails until the end.
LSU 33. Arkansas 30.
“You have to give it to Jasper for a guy who comes onto the field and gets us into overtime and then gets us the win in overtime,” Miles said. “You count on a guy like that to play big at big times, and he does.
“I’m proud of this team,” he added. “They fought like hell in an area where there is a swirling backdrop and agendas. It didn’t bother them. They got the distraction behind them and came out and played as a team.”