LSU wraps up SEC West with big win over Hogs

Les Miles did not even want to contemplate whether his

top-ranked Tigers might get a bid to the BCS title game even if

they lost next weekend’s SEC championship showdown with

Georgia.

”I just want you to know something,” Miles said. ”There would

be no way that this team could come to Atlanta and not play their

best.”

At this point, though, unbeaten LSU (12-0, 8-0 SEC) would have a

good argument for a national title shot even if it stumbled against

the No. 13 Bulldogs in Atlanta next Saturday.

The Tigers wrapped up the SEC West on Friday with a convincing

41-17 victory over No. 3 Arkansas, marking the third time this

season LSU had beaten a team ranked third or higher. The first such

victory came by 13 points over then-No. 3 Oregon in a neutral site

to open the season. Later, came a three-point overtime win at No. 2

Alabama.

None of the one-loss teams vying for a spot in the BCS title

game can boast of overcoming as many highly ranked opponents, so it

appears the Tigers will emerge from the SEC title game either

undefeated, or with the best resume among a handful of one-loss

teams atop the BCS standings.

”We earned this,” said running back Kenny Hilliard, who rushed

for a career-high 102 yards on 18 carries against Arkansas,

including a 6-yard touchdown. ”We knew what we wanted to do. We

wanted to play for an SEC Championship and guess what we get to do

that now.”

Arkansas, which rode a seven-game winning streak into Tiger

Stadium, threatened to ruin LSU’s bid for a perfect season by

taking a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.

LSU responded with a methodical 14-play, 77-yard LSU scoring

drive capped by Hilliard’s bruising TD run to cut the Hogs’ lead in

half. Soon after, Tryann Mathieu was racing past Arkansas’ punt

coverage team for a 92-yard touchdown return that tied the

game.

”I could hear my teammates in my ear saying, `Man, we need you

to go make a play,”’ Mathieu said. ”I was able to help the

momentum really go in our favor.”

The rivalry game with Arkansas (10-2, 6-2) for the enormous

”Boot” trophy was billed as the biggest in Tiger Stadium since

1959, the last time two teams ranked in the top three clashed in

Death Valley. Billy Cannon lifted No. 1 LSU to a 7-3 win over No. 3

Mississippi in that game with an 89-yard punt return for a score,

so it seemed fitting that the Tigers would get a similar score

against the Razorbacks.

”That was a huge turning point in the game,” Arkansas coach

Bobby Petrino said. ”We were trying to get the ball punted to the

sideline, but he miss-hit it a bit and punted it to the middle. …

(Mathieu) made a great cut and made us miss at the point of attack.

He made a great play.”

On Arkansas’ next offensive series, Mathieu forced a fumble by

running back Dennis Johnson that stalled a promising Razorbacks

drive and set up LSU’s go-ahead touchdown, a 9-yard pass from

Jordan Jefferson to Russell Shepard 59 seconds before halftime.

The Tigers pulled away from there on the strength of a punishing

ground game that racked up 286 yards. Spencer Ware scored on a

tackle-breaking 7-yard run in the third quarter, and Jefferson

raced 48 yards for a score on a quarterback draw.

Arkansas took a surprising early lead on Tyler Wilson’s 13-yard

TD pass to Jarius Wright and Alonzo Highsmith’s 47-yard fumble

return. The largest deficit LSU had faced before Friday was 13-9

against Oregon in the season opener.

The Tigers stormed back and outscored the Razorbacks 41-3 from

there.

”This football team down 14 points did not flinch,” Miles

said. ”There was never a question in anyone’s minds on that

sideline we were going to respond.”

LSU’s defense sacked Wilson five times (twice by Barkevious

Mingo) and picked him off once on Morris Claiborne’s team-leading

fifth interception of the season. Mathieu added a second forced

fumble in the second half, which he recovered himself.

Wilson completed 14 of 22 passes for 207 yards, with 60 yards on

a short pass that Cobi Hamilton turned into a long gain. The play

put Arkansas in position to tie the game at 21 in the third

quarter, but LSU’s defense forced a field goal that made it 21-17,

and the Razorbacks never got closer.

”We played a great team and they came out on top,” said

Wright, who came in leading the SEC with 100.2 yards receiving per

game, but was held to only one catch by LSU. ”They’re the No. 1

team in the nation. Of course, we’re upset about the loss because

we definitely could have finished better.”

Jefferson was 18 of 29 for 208 yards and one touchdown. Rueben

Randle had nine catches for 134 yards, while Michael Ford rushed 11

times for 96 yards.

The Hogs were nearly two-touchdown underdogs, but had pledged to

play passionately in memory of late teammate Garrett Uekman, who

died last Sunday.

Coaches wore black ribbons on white shirts, and tight end Austin

Tate changed his jersey number from 87 to Uekman’s 88.

Hardly intimidated by a raucous Death Valley crowd, Arkansas

built a 14-0 lead that was by far LSU’s largest deficit of the

season.

It looked at that point that LSU was going to face its toughest

test yet.

Instead the Tigers made it look easy, scoring three straight TDs

before the half ended and pulling away in the second half.