No. 1 LSU is 11-0 and 7-0 in the Southeastern Conference as it enters its regular-season finale against No. 3 Arkansas (10-1, 6-1) on Friday afternoon in Tiger Stadium.
If the Tigers win, they will complete a perfect regular season, win the SEC West outright, advance to play No. 13 Georgia in the SEC title game next week in Atlanta and place themselves on the cusp of a trip to the BCS Championship. If the Razorbacks win, well, it will take a while to sort things out.
“This is the last regular-season game, and we want to finish perfect,” Tigers defensive end Barkevious Mingo said. “That’s a goal we took upon ourselves, and this is the last game on the schedule, and we want to make that a reality. We’ve just got to stay hungry and keep doing what we’ve been doing all year, and that’s win games and let the rest take care of itself.”
Arkansas has won seven consecutive games, and losses by No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 4 Oregon, and No. 5 Oklahoma last weekend helped the Razorbacks leap from the BCS background to the foreground.
“That’s a great team,” LSU defensive tackle Michel Brockers said of the Razorbacks. “We can’t look past them. We’ve just got to come with it ... This is the biggest game of the century right now.”
A couple of other recent “games of the century” against preseason No. 3 Oregon in the season opener and against No. 2 Alabama on Nov. 5, were played in Arlington, Texas, and Tuscaloosa, Ala., respectively. This game matches the two highest-ranked teams in Tiger Stadium since No. 1 LSU played No. 3 Ole Miss in 1959.
“Our fans need a game like this,” linebacker Ryan Baker said. “To get a feel of playing a top-tier team like this in our home stadium is rejuvenating.”
The Tigers’ 12-game overall winning streak and 16-game home winning streak are the longest in the country.
“That’s probably our main goal this weekend,” guard Will Blackwell said, “to keep that (home) streak alive because we understand how much the people that come to the games here love to see us play and love to see us win, more importantly, and we don’t want to let anybody down.
“If we don’t win this one, we can’t go to Atlanta, which is one of our bigger goals of the season. We want to hang a banner in here, and we realize without winning this game we can’t do that.”
Arkansas leads the SEC in passing yards per game (316.9) and offers the biggest test in that area since West Virginia passed for 463 yards against the Tigers in LSU’s 47-21 victory Sept. 24.
“We’ve got to stay focused because Arkansas can put up a lot of points,” safety Brandon Taylor said. “As a defense and a secondary, we know that we gave up a lot of passing yards to West Virginia, so this will probably be our redeem game because they throw the ball a lot and we don’t want to make the same mistakes we made against West Virginia.”
The Razorbacks passed for just 194 yards against the Tigers last season, but that included touchdown throws of 85, 80, and 39 yards. Arkansas features three of the top receivers in the SEC in Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Chris Gragg and might line up with four or five receivers.
“Yeah,” LSU cornerback Ron Brooks said, “but we’ve got four and five DBs.”
The Tigers are second in the SEC in pass efficiency defense.
Adams has returned three punts for touchdowns this season and leads the SEC with an average of 16.2 yards per return. Arkansas also has two kickoff returns for touchdown from Marquel Wade and Dennis Johnson.
“They have an ability to take the ball back,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “On the punt return and kickoff return, they do a great job of blocking and setting up those returns. The good news is that we have fast guys on that team for us.”
Arkansas’ 31-23 victory last season represented the largest margin of victory in the last six meetings, which the teams have split. But the Razorbacks have won three of the past four.
This game not only brings the regular season to an end for these teams, it also brings to an end a very emotional Thanksgiving week for the Razorbacks. On Sunday, redshirt freshman tight end Garrett Uekman died of what was later discovered to be a heart condition.
Neither coach Bobby Petrino nor any of the Arkansas players have spoken with reporters since.
“That’s a tragic thing that happened,” Brooks said. “Our hearts go out to that family and the Arkansas Razorback community. That definitely makes you take a step back and be thankful for the things that you do have and that you are alive today.”
LSU-Arkansas: 5 memorable games
Jan. 1, 1947 — LSU 0, Arkansas 0: Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle said this Cotton Bowl was the coldest game he ever played. Rain, sleet and snow left fans shivering in the stands in Dallas. LSU held a 271-54 edge in total offense and 15-1 edge in first downs but couldn’t manage to score in a game that became known as the Ice Bowl.
Jan. 1, 1966 — LSU 14, Arkansas 7: The Razorbacks were ranked No. 2 and riding a 22-game winning streak going into this Cotton Bowl, but a 7-3 Tigers team pulled one of its all-time greatest upsets. Joe Labruzzo scored on a pair of 1-yard runs and Jerry Joseph’s fourth-quarter interception denied Arkansas a national title.
Nov. 29, 2002 — Arkansas 21, LSU 20: The year of the Bluegrass Miracle for the Tigers was also the year of the Markham Street Miracle for the Razorbacks. Trailing 20-14, Matt Jones hit Richard Smith for a 50-yard gain, then found DeCori Birmingham in the back of the end zone on a 31-yard TD pass with :09 remaining. The win propelled Arkansas, not LSU, into the SEC Championship Game.
Nov. 24, 2006 — LSU 31, Arkansas 26: Darren McFadden scored on an 80-yard run to pull Arkansas within 24-19 of LSU, but Trindon Holliday returned the ensuing kickoff 92 yards for a score. Felix Jones added another TD for Arkansas but LSU’s defense held, allowing the Tigers to run out the final 1:31. Arkansas finished first in the SEC West, but it was LSU that wound up in the Sugar Bowl.
Nov. 23, 2007 — Arkansas 50, LSU 48 (3OT): Working out of the Wild Hog formation, McFadden led the Razorbacks to an upset of No. 1 LSU in Tiger Stadium. McFadden rushed for 206 yards on 32 carries and three TDs and threw for a fourth score. LSU couldn’t keep the game going in the third OT, as Matterral Richardson intercepted Matt Flynn’s two-point pass, but did recover to win a second BCS title.
- Scott Rabalais