BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- LSU's defense had withstood too many
close games to get rattled -- even under threat of blowing a berth
to the Southeastern Conference title game.
A trick play had Arkansas within 33 yards of erasing a two-point
deficit and scoring a stunning upset in the waning minutes Friday,
but the third-ranked Tigers drove the Razorbacks backward to seal
up a 19-17 victory and a spot in the SEC championship game on Dec.
"I was saying, 'We've been here before. Don't put your head
down, just fight through it," said safety LaRon Landry, whose
interception in the end zone ended the Hogs' final drive. "Why
should you get nervous? Just make it happen. When you find yourself
getting nervous that's when bad things happen."
The Tigers (10-1, 7-1 SEC) also registered their second safety
in as many games after forcing Arkansas to punt from its own end
zone late in the first half. The bad snap by the Razorbacks gave
LSU two critical points, but Arkansas (4-7, 2-6) refused to relent
after falling behind 19-3 early in the second half.
Arkansas coach Houston Nutt was proud of his team -- 17½-point
underdogs -- for not giving up, but he struggled to let go of a few
key errors. The safety came on a bad snap and kicker Chris Balseiro
missed field goals of 41 and 28 yards.
"When we had to make some plays, when you go back and look, we
missed some opportunities," Nutt said. "That's what hurts. There
were one or two plays if we just could have gotten three more
points, as y'all know, it's a whole different outcome."
LSU had to have the victory to clinch the SEC West and now will
face No. 13 Georgia in the conference championship game in Atlanta,
the second time in three years those two teams have met to decide
Five of LSU's victories this season -- including those over
Florida, Auburn and Alabama -- came by four points or fewer.
The Tigers held Arkansas standout freshman Darren McFadden to 57
yards on 24 carries, leaving McFadden at 1,113 for the season.
But McFadden still made his presence felt. His 13-yard gain on a
third-and-9 play kept alive a drive that got Arkansas back in the
game, at 19-11, on Casey Dick's 29-yard touchdown pass to Cedric
Washington in the third quarter.
Trickery got the Razorbacks even closer when Dick threw a
backward pass to Washington, who then found Peyton Hillis all the
way across the field for a 45-yard gain to the LSU 4. McFadden's
1-yard touchdown made it 19-17 with 10:43 to go, but the
Razorbacks' two-point conversion attempt was intercepted by Chevis
LSU's defense, which has held opponents to 20 points or less
during every game of its nine-game winning streak, closed the game
out from there. It started with an impressive stand after Vickiel
Vaughn's interception for Arkansas near midfield. The Hogs' next
three plays went for minus-13 yards. LSU did not allow a first down
on Arkansas' next drive, either.
"Time and time again we had to turn to the defense and the
defense came through," first-year LSU coach Les Miles said.
"There were miscues on the offense ... but the defense came to
play and we won."
The Razorbacks got the ball back once more with 3:44 left at
midfield. The Razorbacks stayed alive on a fourth-and-6 with a
successful halfback pass from McFadden to Marcus Monk for 13 yards
to the LSU 33.
LSU locked down Arkansas after that. Melvin Oliver sacked Dick
back at the 41, and a fourth-and-18 pass was intercepted by Landry
in the end zone.
"We've played in a lot of tough games this year. It came down
to us knowing that we had been in that situation before and we know
how to get ourselves out of it," LSU strong safety Jesse Daniels
said. "We're a great team. We know how to comeback together and
communicate -- just making sure we know where we're supposed to be
at the end of a play."
It was the last game in Tiger Stadium for 21 LSU seniors. The
Tigers are now 50-13 during the past four seasons, including a BCS
Colt David's 26-yard field goal and Russell's 50-yard TD bomb to
Bennie Brazell gave LSU a 10-0 lead.
Dick, a freshman, was erratic early, completing only four of his
first 12 passes. But his 55-yard connection with Monk led to Chris
Balseiro's 30-yard field goal.
"We played them real close for the most part," said Vaughn,
who had two picks. "LSU just found a way to win."
Skyler Green's 40-yard kickoff return led to Vincent's 4-yard TD
run that made it 19-3 early in the third.
Russell finished with 194 yards passing but threw two
interceptions. Vincent had 59 yards rushing but fumbled on the
Arkansas 35 with the Tigers threatening to put the game away.
Dick finished 12-for-28 for 148 yards.
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