Back to Atlanta: SEC West Champs Hold Off Hogs, 19-17

LSU won The Boot ... and the SEC West on Friday.
LSU won The Boot ... and the SEC West on Friday.
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LSU Sports Interactive

By Chris Macaluso
Special to LSUsports.net

BATON ROUGE -- LSU needed to beat Arkansas in Tiger Stadium by just one point Friday to advance to its third Southeastern Conference Championship game in five years.

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 feels good."
 
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."

LSU Game Notes

Team Notes
1. The Tigers claimed a share of the SEC Western Division title with a 7-1 conference record. LSU will represent the Western Division in the SEC Championship Game next Saturday in Atlanta.
a. It marks the third time in the past five seasons that LSU earned a berth in the league title game.
2. LSU reached the 10-win plateau for the eighth time in school history and the third time the Tigers have reached the 10-win mark in the regular season.
3. The Tigers extended their winning streak to nine games, the longest stretch since winning 10 straight at the end of 2003 and the beginning of 2004.
4. LSU recorded its 11th consecutive win in the month of November. The last time the Tigers lost in the month of November was at Arkansas on Nov. 29, 2002.
5. LSU's attendance of 92,127 was the sixth largest in Tiger Stadium history.
6. LSU's game captains were 5 Skyler Green, 41 Chris Jackson, 95 Kyle Williams, 76 Andrew Whitworth.
7. LSU won the toss and deferred to the second half. LSU will defend the south endzone.
8. Tigers extending their consecutive starts' streak today were: OT Andrew Whitworth (50), FS LaRon Landry (31), DT Kyle Williams (31) and LB Cameron Vaughn (23).
9. Twenty-one seniors played their final game in Tiger Stadium: 2 Shyrone Carey, 5 Skyler Green, 6 Mario Stevenson, 8 Ronnie Prude, 10 Joseph Addai, 17 Bennie Brazell, 44 Kevin Steltz, 46 Cameron Vaughn, 51 E.J. Kuale, 53 Gant Petty, 56 Kenneth Hollis, 64 Rudy Niswanger, 68 Terrell McGill, 71 Nate Livings, 76 Andrew Whitworth, 82 David Jones, 86 Schirra Fields, 90 Melvin Oliver, 95 Kyle Williams, 97 Brandon Washington and 98 Claude Wroten.
10. LSU recorded a safety with 0:12 left in the second quarter when WR Early Doucet tackled Arkansas punter Jacob Skinner in the endzone after a bad center snap. It is the third safety recorded by the Tigers this season and the fifth time the LSU defense has scored this season. (The interception return against Tennessee and a safety and fumble return against Vanderbilt).
a. It marked the first time an individual recorded a safety for the Tigers Vanderbilt on Oct. 8, 2005, when DE Chase Pittman sacked QB Jay Cutler in the endzone.
11. LSU has outscored its opponents 53-6 in the first quarter since the game at Vanderbilt on Oct. 8. LSU has outscored its opponents 70-10 in the first quarter for the season and has allowed only one first-quarter touchdown (at Mississippi State). 12. LSU has not allowed a first quarter touchdown in eight-straight games.

Individual Notes
1. OT Andrew Whitworth, in his final game in Tiger Stadium, became the first player in school history to start 50 games. He passed Jerel Myers and Rodney Reed (48 games) for first place last week at Ole Miss.
2. With a tackle in the first quarter, both DT Kyle Williams and FS LaRon Landry extended their tackles in consecutive games streak. They each have now made a tackle in 37 straight games.
3. PK Colt David's 26-yard field goal with 13:24 remaining in the second quarter was his third made field goal of the season and first since a 30-yarder at Mississippi State.
4. DE Melvin Oliver's three sacks of Casey Dick gave him 20 for his career and moved him into a tie for fourth place in the LSU record book with Jarvis Green.
5. QB JaMarcus Russell tossed his 15th touchdown of the season and 24th of his career on a 50-yard lob to WR Bennie Brazell in the second quarter.
a. Russell has now thrown at least one touchdown in nine straight games.
b. With his touchdown pass tonight, Russell moved into a tie for eighth place for touchdown passes in a single season at LSU with 15. He is tied with Tommy Hodson (15 in 1987).
6. WR Bennie Brazell pulled down his third touchdown of the season and his career with a 50-yard TD catch with 10:50 remaining in the second quarter.
7. CB Ronnie Prude's sack of Casey Dick in the second quarter was his first of the season and the second of his career.
8. WR Craig Davis pulled in an eight-yard reception with 3:25 left in the second quarter to extend his consecutive games with a reception streak to 21 (games in which he has played).
9. RS Skyler Green recorded his longest reception of the season on a 29-yard catch with 3:00 remaining in the second quarter.
10. RB Justin Vincent scored his fifth rushing touchdown of the season and 17th of his career on a four-yard run with 10:40 left in the third quarter.
a. Vincent has scored a rushing touchdown in five consecutive games dating back to the North Texas game.
11. RB Justin Vincent tied his season high for rushing attempts with 20. He previously recorded 20 attempts against Alabama on Nov. 12.
12. FS LaRon Landry's interception with 0:57 left in the game was his third of the season and the ninth of his career.

LSU Head Coach Les Miles

Opening Statement...
"First of all, credit is due to Arkansas. I think they came in here and played very emotionally. We certainly did not play our best in several ways. But like this team has done all year, we needed whatever unit was on the field, in this particular instance it happened to be the defense, and they played big. If you look at it, time and time again we turned to the defense, and the defense came through. They played extremely well, and there were miscues with the offense and some misfires and some dropped passes and some mistakes. It was not sharp play. And for the first time, we saw some miscues on our special teams. But again, those things certainly can be fixed. And our defense came to play. I felt like going into this game that as much as we tried to separate our last two opponents before the SEC Championship game, our team seemed to link those two opponents. They thought the game they had prior to this one would be very similar to this one. I felt personally that this would be a difficult game for us to be focused on and play as a full team, offense, defense and special teams. And certainly it was. Again, it was due to the credit of a very good Arkansas team. But we won, and it feels good. We're the (SEC) Western Division Champions, and with our accomplishment we get another opponent. We get another SEC opponent, and we look forward to that. I think our team can focus fully on a game plan and understand the fact that we did not play well (against Arkansas), we need to practice and there's always room to improve. I think this practice week will be one where we will look to play in all three phases, offense, defense and special teams,  improve and look forward to the match-up versus Georgia in the championship game."

On the team's lack of focus in the second half...
"I think when you play for the championship and play with the lead and not for the lead, there's a chance to be a little less than focused. I'm not saying in any way that our focus is the reason that this game was close, but as you look at our play, there are pieces of that game where we haven't played like that in weeks."

On Melvin Oliver's sack in Arkansas' last drive...
"If you watched him play all game long, he was in and around the quarterback. They did not want his side. He played extremely well."

LSU DEFENSIVE PLAYER QUOTES

SS Jessie Daniels

On the game...
"We came out dominated on defense and the offense was doing good moving the ball, and we had to make a lot of adjustments with their motion and all their locations and stuff like that."

On realizing one of their season goals...
"One of our goals was to go to the SEC Championship, and from there we took it one week at a time. We had a rough start, but we had to get back on our regular schedule, so we took it one week at a time and we kept working harder and harder every week."

On giving everyone a heart attack at the end of the game...
"Oh, I love games like that knowing that we're going to come out and finish the game on defense. There is no greater feeling than knowing that you're going out there to play and win for your team."

On the progression of the defense throughout the season...
"In the beginning of the year we were a little slow adjusting to the new defense and getting the communication down, but about midseason we started communicating well and we started getting used to Coach Pelini's defense, which is a great defense, and when we are all on the same page and we are doing everything right I don't think anybody can do anything against us."

CB Ronnie Prude

 On the game...
"I feel great. Each and every last one of us came together, stepped together, and made a tremendous effort, especially the defensive line, and our offense too. I knew all along that we were going to get it done. I never had a doubt in my mind, I knew the defense was going to come out there and stop them. Coming through this whole season, from the first game on we came together, re-grouped and never got out of focus. We stayed focused on what we had to do and we accomplished it."

On the progression of the defense...
"The first game, Arizona St. was a little shaky on the defense, but we improved. We made the commitment, each and every one of us, that we are going to stay together, and don't get down on anybody and just come out and play 60 minutes and that's what we did. Defense had to step up and that's what allows us to win championships."

On going into the SEC Championship...
"It's going to be a fight, a dog fight most definitely. Going to Georgia especially after last year not going to Georgia. It's a little payback, but it's all fun, we're going to go up there, one game at a time and take care of business."

LSU OFFENSIVE PLAYER QUOTES

WR Bennie Brazell

On the win...
"What a way to go out I mean, I've been here five years and been involved in a couple of these before, but this one is special." 

On the Tigers sloppy performance...
"That's how football is.  There are going to be some good plays and some bad plays.  We just have to keep going and roll with it and we came out on top." 

On Coach Miles after the game...
"After the game he was just really happy that we came together all year.  Despite all of the negative stuff we've been through since the beginning of the year, we've all just hung together and now we celebrate together." 

On his touchdown catch...
"It was just a normal go route, a regular play.  Thanks to the offensive line for blocking real good and giving JaMarcus (Russell) time."

FB Kevin Steltz

On preparing for Georgia...
"Monday they're going to show us film and show us what we did wrong.  We're going to have a hard week of practice to get ready for Georgia.  We'll be ready for Georgia."

On never getting the ball...
"If it happens it happens and if it doesn't I don't mind the blocking.  I'm happy when I see any of the running backs run past me."

RB Justin Vincent

On the running game...
"We were consistent at the beginning and then I think they started to scheming to our things.  They made it difficult for us to do certain things that we wanted to do.  When it's all said and done it doesn't really matter, run the ball pass the ball." 

On the team's emotions following the win...
"The emotions are pretty high.  We might not show it because we felt like we left some points on the board.  We feel that there are some things that we could have done and didn't capitalize on, but that comes with tough times." 

OL Rudy Niswanger

On winning the SEC West...
"That was our goal before the season.  That was something we want to do for ourselves and for our new coach.  Today was one of the places we had to get by to get there.  It wasn't pretty, but some times games in the SEC aren't pretty.  We came out and one and now we have a big one next week."
 
On looking past Arkansas...
"I don't know if players were looking past the game our not, but if they were this was a wake up call.  It doesn't matter who you play in the SEC you can't come out and look past them.  Any team on any given day in this conference can beat you."

Arkansas Game Notes v. LSU

  • The game attendance of 92,127 was the fifth-largest the Razorbacks have ever played in front of.
  • With today's game, Arkansas has played five nationally-ranked opponents in 2005. It is only the fourth time in school history the Razorbacks have played as many as five ranked opponents in the same season. All four occurrences have come since 1997 (1997, 2000, 2004, 2005) with three of those coming in the Houston Nutt era. (2000, 2004, 2005).
  • Kyle Roper started at left guard for the injured Stephen Parker.
  • Jeremy Harrell earned his second career start at right guard.
  • With his catch in the first quarter Marcus Monk has made at least one catch in 22-consecutive games.
  • Casey Dick's 55-yard pass to Monk in the second quarter was the longest passing play of the year for Arkansas and the longest pass play LSU has given up all season.  The reception was also a career-best for Monk.  His previous best was a 38-yarder against New Mexico State in 2004.
  • Vickiel Vaughn recorded his third and fourth interceptions of the season, making him the first player to have two picks in a game since Lerinezo Robinson against Louisiana-Monroe in 2004.
  • Arkansas punter Jacob Skinner was tackled in the end zone for a safety after a low snap near the end of the first half.
  • It was the first time the Razorbacks had given up a safety since 2004 when a snap went over Skinner's head out of the end zone.
  • Darren McFadden's 81-yard kickoff return in the third quarter was a career-long and is the second-longest on the season for Arkansas, trailing only Felix Jones' 100-yard return against Mississippi State last week.  
  • Cedric Washington's 29-yard touchdown in the third quarter was his first of the season and the second of his career. 
  • The two-point conversion that followed by McFadden was the first successful two-point conversion by Arkansas since it played South Carolina in 2004 when Matt Jones threw to DeCori Birmingham.
  • Keith Jackson caused and recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter, making it his second forced fumble and third recovery for the season.
  • Washington's 45-yard throw to Peyton Hillis in the fourth quarter was the first of Washington's career.
  • McFadden's one-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was his 11th of the season and moves him into a tie for 10th with Ron Calcagni on UA's all-time list for rushing TD's in a season.
  • McFadden's 13-yard pass to Monk in the fourth quarter was the first completion of McFadden's career.

Arkansas Head Coach Houston Nutt

Opening Statement
"I've never been prouder of a group of young people, that when things didn't go as we planned, we planned on going to a bowl this year, they really felt that we would accomplish that goal and when you find out in mid-season that you're not it's really easy in November to let go.  And that's the one thing that if you look, even to the last tackle, they were laying it on the field, everything they had, they were leaving it on the field and that's what you love.  I love the heart, the attitude of never letting go.  I had very few seniors that played today, but I am going to miss the ones that did play with us today, Vickiel Vaughn, (Kyle) Roper, Pierre Brown, Jared Hicks, Brandon Kennedy, all of these guys have just done so much for our program and I appreciate what they've done.  I tell you what, they fought all day long today."

On their fourteen unanswered points in the 2nd half...
"It was about time that we started making plays.  But you have got to give them credit, they got a great defense.  We had trouble all day long and we had new guys in there, and it was hard for us to protect.  We tried to do some things to get the ball off very quickly, which we did some of the time, but that's what happens-Cedric Washington, Marcus Monk, (Darren) McFadden, you put it in the hands of your playmakers along with Peyton Hillis and hopefully, you are going to get something done.  They are so run oriented, they're so run conscious of (Darren) McFadden that it was hard for us to gain very much today.  You have got to give them credit, that's where their defensive line, of all seniors-thank goodness they are seniors because it seems like they've been here for a long time, and they controlled the line of scrimmage.  But when we had to make some plays, when you go back and look, we missed some opportunities.  We missed a field goal, we missed some opportunities in there and that's what hurts.  There were one or two plays if we just could have gotten three more points, as ya'll know, it's a whole different outcome."

ARKANSAS OFFENSIVE PLAYERS QUOTES

QB CASEY DICK

On how his team played...
"We came in here knowing we had nothing to lose and they had everything to lose. We just tried to keep them off balance with some trick plays. We wanted to keep them on their toes. We had our chances, we just didn’t execute on some of them."

On the teams trick plays...
"We work on those a couple times a week. We just look for the right time and the right coverage.  When we threw that long pass to Peyton (Hillis), that got us rolling."

On his last pass...
"I was rolling out, and I saw the blitz coming. I just wanted to give our team a chance. I turned around and threw it over the middle hoping somebody would be able to get it, just didn't happen."

WR CEDRIC WASHINGTON

On his pass to Peyton Hillis...
"We work on that all the time, we just haven’t ran it yet. We have been waiting for them to pull it out the bag. We want to execute it whenever we can."

On how his team played...
"I am just so proud of this team. From the coaching staff all the way to people who weren’t able to get on the field. We have worked so hard from the off season to spring. We gave our coaches everything we had to try and get a win."

ARKANSAS PLAYER QUOTES (Defense)

FS VICKIEL VAUGHN

On his impression of the game...
"It was a close game, a tough game.  It was a game that you knew coming in that it was going to be a fight for all four quarters.  We played them real close for the most part, LSU just found a way to win."

On his two interceptions...
"We just played our defense.  Our front four were getting great pressure and our corners were covering well.  I was just helping my corner.  It wasn't really anything extra, everyone just did their job and I just found myself in a position to intercept the ball."

LB SAM OLAJUBUTU

On the team's preparation...
"We came in preparing for the run and their screens.  They just have so many weapons on offense that we had to prepare for all of that."

On the defense's play late in the game...
"One or two times we stopped them on the goal line and towards the end we had them going three and out.  Those were big momentum boosts for us.  We knew we could do it.  Those stops built our confidence up."

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