Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
NO. 7 LSU 20, ARKANSAS 13:
Lost season stamped
Hogs flirt with victory vs.Tigers, fall short to finish 4-8 nightmare
Arkansas wide receiver Mekale McKay leaves the field after the Razorbacks lost to No. 7 LSU 20-13 on Nov. 23 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas took the fight to BCS No. 7 LSU for most of a chilly afternoon at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, but the game ended in disappointment and defeat, painfully indicative of the Razorbacks’ season.
Tyler Wilson’s pass as time expired sailed a few inches above the hands of Mekale McKay in the end zone and LSU escaped with a 20-13 victory over the mistake-prone Razorbacks on Friday.
Arkansas (4-8, 2-6 SEC) out gained the Tigers (10-2, 6-2) by a substantial margin - 462 yards to 306 - but another array of Razorbacks blunders and bickering at officials on the sideline proved costly for the Hogs, who lost five home games in a season for the first time since 1992, the last time LSU visited the Arkansas campus.
“I really thought until that last throw that we were going to pull it out,” said Wilson, who passed for 359 yards and a touchdown and ended his career as Arkansas’ all-time leader in passing yards with 7,765.
“It was an exciting finish for us, we just didn’t pull it off,” said Arkansas receiver Cobi Hamilton, who surpassed Jarius Wright’s school record with 175 career catches. “It’s been the summary of our season, but I’m just so proud of my teammates fighting all the way to the end.” LSU, which still harbors long-shot hopes of a BCS title game bid, forced two key turnovers, scored a second half touchdown after Michael Ford’s 86-yard kickoff return, and held the Hogs out of the end zone on two plays from the 1 with a 17-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.
“Quality team,” LSU Coach Les Miles said of the Razorbacks. “It’s very difficult for me to believe that is not a bowl-eligible football team. Watching the talent there, very capable.”
The Tigers were held to 89 yards rushing, nearly 100 yards less than their average of 188 per game.
“Coming in there’s no one who would have thought we would have played against that team like that defensively,” Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes said.
Arkansas was done in by the same mistakes that have hounded it all season: turnovers and struggles in the red zone.
Dennis Johnson lost a fumble at the LSU 2 to end Arkansas’ first series, Zach Hocker missed two field goals in the Hogs’ scoreless first half, and a dead-ball unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave LSU a first down when it faced third-and-4 at the Arkansas 39. Then, on third-and-8 from the Arkansas 22, Jarvis Landry made a one-handed catch and fell on his back in the end zone for a 10-0 Tigers lead.
“You work as hard as you can, and it’s just sad for it to come to an end,” Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said. “It’s kind of like the whole year went.
“We go right down the field, fumble on the 2, miss two field goals.”
Arkansas, which came into the game ranked 79th nationally in total defense yielding 419.4 yards per game, held LSU to 306 total yards, 88 yards below the Tigers’ average.
“Our defense played their tails off,” Arkansas Coach John L. Smith said.
“That’s one thing, we just played with hard effort on every play,” said Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith, who had six tackles and was in on two sacks.
“That was fun to watch, to fight that thing to the end,” Haynes said. “The effort that they gave is just a testament to all the fight that these guys have.”
Boos poured down twice in the final quarter as some fans - those who remained from the announced crowd of 71,117 - questioned a couple decisions by Smith.
First, Smith elected to kick a field goal on fourth down inside the LSU 1 with a 17-10 deficit and 12:17 remaining, and then Smith chose to punt on fourth-and-4 from the LSU 45 with about six minutes remaining and LSU ahead 17-13.
Smith defended both the calls.
“It was the right call,” he said of John Henson’s 17-yard field goal. “You have to score twice to win it, don’t you? ... You have to take the sure points and then come back and score again anyway.”
The decision to punt came after the Arkansas defense had limited LSU to 58 yards on 23 plays in the second half, allowing only a 14-yard touchdown drive for a 17-3 lead after Ford’s long kickoff return.
The Razorbacks forced a third-and-10 from the LSU 36, but Zach Mettenberger connected with Odell Beckham over the right side, and Beckham fought through a Will Hines tackle for a 47-yard gain to set up Drew Alleman’s 27-yard field goal with 1:26 left.
Arkansas drove 60 yards as the clock wound down, with Brandon Mitchell catching a 12-yard pass on fourth-and-10 and Julian Horton sliding for a 28-yard catch to the LSU 18 with about 12 seconds left.
The Razorbacks rushed up to the line and Wilson spiked the ball with eight seconds remaining, setting up a final play.
Wilson was forced to his right due to pressure and threw to the freshman McKay’s side rather than to the left, where Dennis Johnson, Hamilton and Mitchell were lined up.
“It happened really quick,” Wilson said. “I thought I might be able to get a [seam] in there, and kind of the way the receiver ran it, it wasn’t there, so I scrambled a little bit to my right in the pocket and thought I had Mekale McKay there in the back of that end zone and just threw a bit high and out of reach.”
Game sketch RECORDS LSU 10-2, 6-2 SEC; Arkansas 4-8, 2-6
SEC STARS LSU receiver Jarvis Landry made a one handed, 22-yard touchdown catch and finished with 8 catches for 75 yards. Tyler Wilson (31 of 52 for 359 yards, 1 TD) and Cobi Hamilton (10 catches, 98 yards) broke Arkansas records for career passing yards and career receptions
TURNING POINT LSU stopped consecutive Arkansas plays from the Tigers’ 1, forcing a 17-yard field goal and preserving a 17-13 lead for the Tigers with 12:17 remaining.
KEY STATS LSU was out gained 462 yards to 306, but won the turnover battle 2-0.
UP NEXT The Razorbacks and their fans await the appointment of the next Arkansas head coach.
Sports, Pages 23 on 11/24/2012