BATON ROUGE -- While star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and quarterback Zach Mettenberger went down with injuries as the sun set on Saturday in Tiger Stadium, two freshmen stepped up and ushered in the next era of LSU Football with a fourth-quarter comeback for the ages.
LSU true freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings finished an eight-play, 99-yard drive with a 49-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman wide receiver Travin Dural with 75 seconds remaining, as No. 15 LSU (9-3, 5-3 SEC) came from behind to defeat Arkansas, 31-27.
On third-and-10 from the Arkansas 49, Jennings waited in the pocket as Jarvis Landry cut from his slot position to the outside at the 35 yardline, drawing the cornerback and safety off Dural. The speedy outside receiver sprinted by his defender along the left sideline and caught Jennings' throw in stride at the 10 before running untouched for the game-winning touchdown.
"It came from the offense last year, and it was just the right moment to call it," said Dural, who came into the game with six catches for 96 yards and a touchdown in 2013. "I was thinking ‘Just make a play.’ I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life, and I just couldn’t let that pass.”
"[Zach Mettenberger]'s the starter and I understand that," said Jennings. "He’s the quarterback of this team. He just happened to get hurt in the fourth quarter. I was the backup and I came in and I always prepare like a starter. Coach Cam [Cameron] says, ‘Always play like a starter,’ and that’s what I did.”
Jennings entered the contest only 2-of-3 passing for 23 yards with 11 rushes for 23 yards in 2013. Seeing his first meaningful action in his eighth game while facing a fourth-quarter deficit, he calmly led his team to its ninth win of the season and capped LSU's 15th undefeated home slate in Tiger Stadium history.
Jennings finished the afternoon 4-of-7 passing for 76 yards while running three times for 26 yards. Mettenberger, who became the third LSU quarterback to throw for more than 3,000 yards, was injured late in the fourth quarter as Landry made a spectacular 32-yard catch that setup a field goal. Mettenberger was hit low by Arkansas senior tackle Bryan Jones and was helped off the field. Later, he was walking on the sideline on crutches as Jennings picked up where he left off. Mettenberger was 14-of-22 passing for 156 yards with an interception.
Beckham Jr. left the game in the second quarter with one catch and a 20-yard run, allowing Landry to lead the Tigers with 113 yards on eight catches.
LSU running back Jeremy Hill rushed 20 times for a game-high 145 yards including a 52-yard touchdown, also catching five passes out of the backfield for 27 yards. Terrence Magee had 59 yards on seven carries with touchdown runs of 29 and 23 yards in the first quarter.
LSU's defense - which came up with a big stop after the Tigers cut the Razorbacks' lead to 27-24 with a 37-yard field goal - secured the victory by forcing a fumble with less than a minute to play.
LSU, which won the "Battle for the Golden Boot" for the third-straight season, outgained Arkansas, 470-360, while converting 7-of-12 third downs.
The Tigers will learn their postseason bowl destination on Sunday, Dec. 8.
Arkansas (3-9, 0-8 SEC) forced two turnovers that resulted in drives starting in LSU territory but only managed a pair field goals from the Tigers mistakes.
The Razorbacks finished winless in the SEC for the first time after joining the league in 1992 and winless in conference play for the first time since 1942.
Quarterback Brandon Allen completed 19-of-29 passes for 178 yards with touchdown passes of 9 and 2 yards to tight end Hunter Henry. Jonathan Williams ran for 58 yards, while Javontee Herndon added 50 and Korliss Marshall had 45. Freshman running back Alex Collins eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing on the season but was limited to 28 net yards on 11 carries. Keon Hatcher was the Razorbacks leading receiver with seven catches for 84 yards.
LSU won the coin toss and deferred its decision until the second half. The Tigers kicked off to the Razorbacks while defending the north endzone, and Arkansas went three-and-out after a pair of passes by Allen fell incomplete.
After a 51 yard punt and 11 yards by Beckham Jr. on the return, LSU began its first scoring drive at its 30. Third-down conversions of 17 yards to Landry and 16 to Beckham Jr. setup Magee's 29-yard touchdown along the right sideline. LSU led 7-0 with 11:15 remaining in the first quarter.
Arkansas' Korliss Marshall returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, but the return was nullified by a holding penalty. On the second play of the drive, Allen connected on a play-action pass to Hatcher for 43 yards to the LSU 35. A 7-yard pass to Henry on third-and-2 put the Razorbacks in first-and-goal from the LSU 6. After an offsides penalty, 242-pound fullback Kiero Small entered to take a direct snap and scored from 3 yards. Arkansas tied the game at 7-7 with 6:26 left in the opening quarter.
LSU's offense continued its hot start with another touchdown scoring drive. Beckham Jr. took an end-around pitch from Hill and ran 20 yards to the LSU 45. A pair of runs by Hill netted 15 yards to the Arkansas 40 before Mettenberger found Landry for 15 yards. On the second of consecutive runs by Magee, the back raced over the left end, cut back to the middle and scored a 23-yard touchdown. LSU led 14-7 with 3:38 remaining in the quarter.
The Tigers allowed a first down to the Hogs on the next drive, but defensive end Danielle Hunter stopped Collins for a 4-yard loss on third-and-1 from the Arkansas 43 to force a punt.
With Beckham Jr. on the sideline with an injury, the Tigers offense stalled. Though Blue and Hill each ran for first downs, LSU's drive went backward with an illegal substitution penalty and a 10-yard sack of Mettenberger. Jamie Keehn's punt of 54 yards gave Arkansas the ball at its 14.
The Razorbacks earned a pair of first downs and reached the 49-yard line when wide receiver Javontee Herndon broke off a 42-yard run to the LSU 9. On the next play, Allen found Henry wide open in the endzone for a 9-yard touchdown that tied the game at 14-14 with 6:14 left in the half.
Another sack of Mettenberger on third-and-7 led to a quick three-and-out for LSU, and Arkansas took over at its 36 following a 44-yard punt by Keehn.
Marshall's 32-yard run on the next play put Arkansas at the LSU 32, however, Allen's throw into the endzone was intercepted by defensive back Jalen Mills.
Hill gave the Tigers first downs by rushing and receiving, but Mettenberger was then stripped of the ball after his third sack in as many series.
Starting from the LSU 28, Arkansas worked its way to the 3 but safety Craig Loston stopped Small who took a direct snap on third-and-goal behind a 10-man front.
A 20-yard field goal by Zach Hocker as time expired gave Arkansas a 17-14 halftime advantage.
LSU took the opening kickoff in the second half and gained a first down with an 8-yard pass to tight end Travis Dickson that put Mettenberger over 3,000 yards passing in 2013. However, on third-and-12 from the LSU 38, his pass was tipped into the secondary and intercepted by Arkansas' Alan Turner. A 24-yard return gave the Razorbacks another drive that started inside LSU territory at the 39.
Once again, LSU's defense came up with a third-down stop and forced a 28-yard field goal by Hocker. With 9:27 left in the third quarter, Arkansas led 20-14.
The Tigers regained the lead with a five-play, 75-yard scoring drive that ended with a 52-yard touchdown run by Hill. Colby Delahoussaye's PAT put LSU back in front, 21-20, with 7:35 remaining in the third quarter.
Arkansas gained a first down on the ensuing drive, however, the Razorbacks were stopped on third-and-4 from their 47. After getting into punt formation, Arkansas moved into a running formation before drawing LSU offside with a hard count. Allen and Williams led the Razorbacks into the LSU redzone before Henry caught his second touchdown of the game on third-and-goal from the 2.
The Razorbacks regained the lead, 27-21, with 50 seconds left in the third quarter.
LSU's attempt to answer the scored ended at the Arkansas 17 after 13 plays when Hill's reception on fourth-and-2 came up short of the first-down marker. Despite the turnover on downs, LSU's defense came up with a stop on third-and-2 to force a punt.
Starting from the LSU 34, Mettenberger picked up a first down with a 13-yard pass to Landry and then looked deep to the Tigers receiver on the next play. Landry pulled in a spectacular one-handed pass from behind a defender for 32 yards to the Arkansas 21, but Mettenberger was hit on the knee as he threw and was helped to the sideline.
With the star quarterback on the sideline, LSU turned to Jennings. The true freshman wasn't able to advance into the redzone and LSU settled for a 37-yard field goal by Delahoussaye. With 4:56 to play, LSU trailed 27-24.
Again needing a defensive stop, LSU got it. Mills tackled Hatcher a yard short of a first down at the Razorbacks 34. With 3:17 remaining Sam Irwin-Hill launched a 65-yard punt over Landry's head and all the way to the LSU 1.
Facing a long field and a ticking clock, Jennings calmly started the drive with a 2-yard rush to the 3. Out of the shadow of the south endzone, Jennings found tight end Dillon Gordon for 16 yards to the LSU 19. An incomplete pass late in the direction of Kadron Boone was followed by an 11-yard pass and first down run by Landry to the LSU 30 with 2:02 left in the game. With Arkansas' secondary in retreat, Jennings then scrambled along the right sideline for 21 yards across midfield to the Arkansas 49. A pair of passes netted no yards and LSU called timeout with 1:22 to play. On third-and-10, Jennings looked deep in the direction of Dural, who got behind redshirt freshman cornerback Jared Collins, and hit the receiver in stride for a 49-yard touchdown pass that sent the stadium into a frenzy with 75 seconds to play.
Including today's game-changing catch, all seven of Dural's receptions during first regular-season campaign resulted in first downs or touchdowns.
Arkansas got a last shot from its 21 with 1:09 to play. The Razorbacks gained a first down to their 32 and called timeout with 45 seconds left after a 7-yard run by Allen to the 39. On the next play, Dwayne Thomas chased Allen out of the pocket and knocked the ball out of the quarterback's hands. Defensive end Jermauria Rasco recovered at the Arkansas 24 to seal the victory.
Prior to the game, LSU honored 14 seniors in a on-field ceremony. Attendance was announced as 89,656.
LSU HEAD COACH LES MILES QUOTES
Opening statement …
“I think Arkansas played very well, and I want to give credit to them. They played extremely hard all game. I can tell you that it may not have been exactly the style of game that we like to play. I think we could have played better in the first half, certainly, and our defense could have played better. Our offense could have been more productive. Then we get in a position where we were going to have to score, and we’re going to have to score a seven-pointer. So we go down in there and go for it on fourth down. At that point in time, we had a freshman center (Ethan Pocic) in it. Then we turned to defense and said ‘Okay now, this is the one. It’s going to be three-and-out, and we have to stop it right now so we can get the ball back.’ So we lose our quarterback (Zach Mettenberger), and the ball rests on the one-yard line with 99 yards for victory. At that point in time, we had a freshman quarterback (Anthony Jennings), – our second team quarterback – and we had a freshman center – a second team tackle (Evan Washington) who did very well. Odell Beckham (Jr.) had not played for the majority of the game. That team led by Anthony Jennings went 99 yards and was just as cool and calm and comfortable as there is. We have to give him great credit. His demeanor, his poise. We didn’t have a quarterback-center exchange problem. The center played a lot of football in his short career already, so he’s pretty comfortable out there. He hit a really nice route to the tight end and crosser, which was great. A really nice throw, and Jarvis Landry puts us in a position (to score) with a great catch. On that drive, a scramble gets you a first down. You get out there, and we want to take a shot. Travin Dural runs fast, and really to this point, no one on the field really seems to know that. We go behind the quarterback just coolly; go right in there and Tigers win. I have to tell you something. If you had told me that was the scenario, I would have said, ‘No way.’ This group, there is just something about them. They’re competitive, they want to play, they make plays and no matter what the scenario, I would never count them out. Only the Tigers. It’s pretty special, and it’s special to be a part of. I’m fortunate.
“Zach Mettenberger got hurt, and I don’t know the extent, certainly. I gave him the instruction, ‘You know what? It would be my guess that a lot of people would love to hear from you, Zach.’ He said, ‘Coach, I’m just afraid that I might be too emotional. Would you tell them?’ So I said, ‘Okay, I will.’ So message from Zach Mettenberger: he said he enjoyed his time here tremendously. He has grown and matured and he is a quality man. He has fully enjoyed his time at LSU. What a game. Really. How about that, Kathy Miles? I tell you one thing, don’t pretend for a minute that it doesn’t touch a coach. It touches a coach to see kids fighting like that. How about that defense going in there. That’s saying something, a couple of first downs, and the games over. The special teams, (Colby) Delahoussaye goes in there and just fully pops them in there, and there’s good protection. Just the way it’s supposed to happen. Only the Tigers, man. Only the Tigers.”
LSU OFFENSIVE PLAYER QUOTES
On his game-winning drive …
“I had confidence in my team. I felt like we were going to win the game. That’s all I was going to try to do was to win the game. I couldn’t do any of this without my coaches. Coach Cam [Cameron] put me in a great position, the O-line blocked for me, the defense got the ball back, and Travin [Dural] made a great catch.”
On if he wishes he had gotten more playing time this season …
“Zach [Mettenberger] is our quarterback. He’s the starter and I understand that. He’s the quarterback of this team. He just happened to get hurt in the fourth quarter. I was the backup and I came in and I always prepare like a starter. Coach Cam [Cameron] says, ‘Always play like a starter,’ and that’s what I did.”
On if he talked to Zach Mettenberger after the game …
“I wasn’t able to speak to him. When I came off the field after that first drive, he said to calm down and just get into a groove, and that’s what I did. Zach is a tremendous teacher and he helps me, being a senior. He kind of molded me into becoming a better quarterback.”
WR Travin Dural
On the play call for his game-winning touchdown catch …
“It was a play we ran in fall camp. It came from the offense last year, and it was just the right moment to call it.”
On what was going through his head as the ball was in the air on his game-winning touchdown catch …
“I was thinking ‘Just make a play.’ I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life, and I just couldn’t let that pass.”
On if he was surprised how open he was on that touchdown catch …
“I wasn’t because every time we ran seven and eight combinations, the eight was coming open and Jarvis [Landry] being Jarvis, he occupied everybody.”
On whether he had any doubts at the start of LSU’s 99-yard, game-winning drive …
“Not at all. Coach [Miles] prepares for moments like this. It just speaks volumes about him and the work that he’s put in for that moment to come.”
On the atmosphere of the locker room after the game …
“It was crazy. Everybody was really excited. It was a great team victory.”
On Zach Mettenberger’s emotions after the game …
“This was his last time to get to play in Tiger Stadium. He went down, but you could tell he was happy for those guys and happy for us even though he was suffering. He was really happy for everyone.”
RB Jeremy Hill
On how proud he was with the freshmen that stepped up …
“Most definitely. I’m so proud of those guys. Especially with me being in that position last year in the South Carolina game. This is what we do over here at this school. We prepare everyone as if they need to step in every week. Coach Miles and Coach Cameron did a great job preparing those guys. They got a lot of reps in practice, and it showed today. That’s what this program does. We raise guys quick.”
On the offense’s game-winning drive …
“I knew that first play is always the most important play and [Anthony Jennings] got a push and he got us out of that situation. I think those first two plays were huge, and once we got out of that jam I had confidence we could move the ball down the field.”
On Travin Dural’s game-winning touchdown catch …
“I knew it was four-down territory so we’d have two chances either way to win. We couldn’t take a turnover; We couldn’t take a sack, so we stayed strong in our protection and we hit Travin [Dural] on a line route. Coach must’ve seen Travin get open and Anthony [Jennings] trusted him. He hit him down the field and everyone just went crazy. It’s stuff you dream of. You can’t dream these things up. It was crazy. Great experience and just a great way to go out this season.”
LSU DEFENSIVE PLAYER QUOTES
LB Lamin Barrow
On the defense stepping up at the end of the game …
“We just felt a sense of urgency. We knew the game was going to come back to us as a defense. We just had to be able to pull it together. We have to fulfill our job, especially in times like this. On fourth downs we were jumping offsides and things of that nature. We knew we had to adjust our scheme. At some point we had to step up. We had to tell ourselves to play our positions and start doing our jobs.”
On Arkansas’ offensive scheme …
“The way they played in the zone and with their offensive line, they made it hard to play the field sometimes. As linebackers we try to pick up a lot of responsibilities, but a lot of times we need to stay inside our tackles. At that point it is the job of our cornerbacks and safeties to step up and man the outside.”
On Coach Chavis’ and Coach Haley’s ‘tweaks’…
“We kind of just went man-on-man. We let our tackles rush the field and get more pressure. Of course, everyone saw in the last play of the game when a young player [Dwayne Thomas] stepped up and made that fumble. Instead of doing our normal rush of pressure we changed things and you see that young guy make a great play. Chief [Coach John Chavis] has always been a great coordinator, and he is able to change his scheme. We made a few changes, and it worked for us.”
On this being the last regular season game …
“It was a team effort. A lot of the younger guys would say ‘We are playing for you, we are playing for Craig [Loston], we are playing for Zach [Mettenberger].’ I definitely did not want to leave with a loss. I think the guys around me really lifted me up, and I really lifted them up. We played as a team.”
CB Jalen Mills
On defensive turnovers …
“We have a period of practice where the defense does have to get the ball back for the offense. Coach is pressuring us and the offense is pressuring us to get the ball back. It is just a regular routine.”
On the comeback win …
“It was an amazing effort by everybody. We did it for the seniors and the guys who are leaving. I feel like we just played the style of LSU football we can play and let those guys go out with a bang.”
Arkansas Head Coach Bret Bielema Quotes
“Obviously a very difficult ending to a good football game. I thought our guys from last Saturday to where we were…we knew we were having a short work week. We came in on Sunday and said ‘hey, we’ve got six days to get ourselves into position. Let’s make sure we are moving forward.’ We didn’t want to spend any time pouting. We didn’t worry about negatives, we jumped into preparation. I thought they locked in extremely well and played a good football game today, but again something raises up at the end that causes us to lose the game. But a lot of positives, a lot of good play. A lot of good competing. Enough positives that I’d be very shocked if the story of the 2014 season isn’t anything but a positive. We’ll put together a good recruiting class. We’ll develop the group that’s coming back. Our seniors, I love them to death. They’ve been through a lot. I would have loved to have given them the golden boot today, but for whatever life’s reasons it didn’t want happen. I wish those guys nothing but the best of luck. Injury wise, nothing really significant. Everybody should be back to play.”
On LSU’s last touchdown…
“You’ve got them in a two-play down, third and long. We knew that we had to keep that quarterback, he’s a good athlete, wanted to keep him bottled in there. Basically play to that side. We were in a deep-path coverage, had a deep-path player, but it obviously wasn’t there. The only thing I asked them to do is take what you learned here and take it home with you. Don’t leave it here in Baton Rouge or we’ll never overcome where we are at right now.”
On his team being the underdogs…
“I think our guys expected to win. We didn’t try to stay close. I think they prepared from last Sunday to today and they expected to win. They may have shocked everybody else but our guys...the reason they are gutted right now is obviously that they are hurt. They fully expected to win the game as well as I did and that’s the way we will train them going forward.”
On if he thought about going for it on fourth and one…
“I did for a split second. Eight linemen, from the look of it, I was going to try to get a push. But I opted to go for the punt.”
ARKANSAS OFFENSIVE PLAYER QUOTES
TE Hunter Henry
On the outcome of the game…
“We fought hard, we had tremendous effort and just didn’t come up with it in the end. We thought we were going to win the whole time. We had a chance to win it, and we just kind of gave it up. It’s definitely pretty tough. We’re just going to carry this into the offseason, remember this when we are working and try to make a turnaround next year.”
QB Brandon Allen
On the outcome of the game…
“It’s tough for anybody. We had it there at the end, and it’s tough for anybody to lose a game like that.”
On the offensive play calling…
“I thought this whole game we had it going. We had it clicking on offense. The run game and pass game had certain things going for us. We were able to put up a few points and unfortunately we needed a few more.”
On getting a first down late in the game…
“We came within a few inches both times. It’s tough. I think if we get both of those maybe there wouldn’t have been enough (time on the) clock left for them.”
ARKANSAS DEFENSIVE PLAYER QUOTES
MLB Brooks Ellis
On going into tonight’s game with a winning mentality…
“That is how we go into every game. We go into every game thinking we are going to win. We kept rolling on the momentum and getting turnovers, but we just couldn’t come up with it.”
On taking the lead against LSU in the fourth quarter…
“We got up. The mentality is to put the ball down and make the next play. That is what we did.”
SLB Braylon Mitchell
On taking the lead in the fourth quarter…
“We never got complacent. We tried to remain posed and keep it together. We knew we had them in a good spot. All we had to do was capitalize and get off the field. Obviously that didn’t happen. When you are in situations like that you have to get off the field and give the our offense the ball back.”
On adjusting to Anthony Jennings’ style of play…
“We expected if he got in the game that it would be more of a zone read. We expected him to run more, not really pass. We really didn’t look to him to pass the ball a lot. It wasn’t too big of an adjustment. We just needed to play our game and get the job done.”
SS Alan Turner
On tonight’s loss against LSU…
“It was a hard-fought game. We fought to the end, but it just didn’t go our way.”