FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The LSU football team reached 10 wins Friday for only the 14th time in program history, but little about the Tigers’ road to a 6-2 finish in Southeastern Conference play came easily.
Of the six wins, only a 37-17 victory over Mississippi State came by more than a touchdown.
But that final was skewed by Craig Loston’s late 100-yard interception return for a touchdown, a scoreboard-twisting development as Mississippi State threatened to pull within a touchdown while driving deep in LSU territory.
LSU’s other five wins came by 22 total points, an average of 4.4 points.
“We get into the back end of a game, we know how to play it and will make it difficult on the opponent,” LSU coach Les Miles said.
“Our guys believe they’re going to win. It’s maybe the greatest characteristic of our football team.”
Including a 14-6 loss at Florida and a dramatic 21-17 setback against Alabama, LSU saw its eight conference games decided by an average of 6.8 points.
That’s a far cry from last year.
LSU won seven of its eight regular-season SEC games in 2011 by an average of 30 points, then beat Georgia 42-10 in the SEC title game. The other regular-season SEC win was a 9-6 thriller at Alabama in overtime.
Arkansas had the ball at the LSU 18 on Friday when Tyler Wilson misfired into the end zone as time expired.
“It seems like everybody wants to give us their best shot,” LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger said.
On the mend
Miles said Friday he looks forward to seeing how his Tigers stack up in their bowl game once given a chance to get some missing pieces healthy again.
LSU survived a wave of attrition to reach 10 wins, including knee injuries to leading rusher Alfred Blue and standout tackle Chris Faulk.
Blue and Faulk will remain sidelined for the bowl game, but senior guard Josh Williford (head), freshman linebacker Kwon Alexander (ankle) and junior linebacker Luke Muncie (stomach illness) are in line to rejoin the Tigers after missing significant time during the regular season.
“We’re a little nicked right now,” Miles said. “We’re going to look forward to getting to that period of time where we can heal.”
Loston left Friday’s game with an ankle injury, but Miles said it wasn’t something he expected to keep the junior safety sidelined.
“There’s an opportunity for us to get healthy again, the opportunity as a team to feel that freshness we had the first few games,” said LSU senior tackle Josh Dworaczyk, who missed time early in the season because of injury.
“I’m looking forward to having some time off and getting my feet back underneath me and getting some strength back where I need it and going out there and having a great game.”
Alleman nears mark
LSU senior Drew Alleman, tied for sixth on the school’s all-time list with 36 career field goals, has now made 105 straight PAT’s without a miss and will have a chance to break the school record for consecutive makes in the bowl game.
Alleman ranks second in LSU history for consecutive PAT tries without a miss behind David Browndyke, who went 109 tries without a miss.
Climbing the Hill
With 77 yards on 18 carries Friday, Jeremy Hill moved into seventh place for rushing yards in a season by an LSU freshman, now with 631. Within reach for Hill are No. 6 LaBrandon Toefield (682, in 2000), No. 5 Harvey Williams (700 in 1986) and No. 4 Garry James (710 in 1982).
Junior linebacker Tahj Jones, senior tight end Tyler Edwards, sophomore linebacker D.J. Welter and sophomore tackle Evan Washington missed the entire regular season after being ruled academically ineligible.
Miles made it clear those four players will not move forward with the Tigers during bowl preparations, and suggested their futures with the program beyond that could also be in question.
“I don’t really expect any of those guys to return, to be honest,” Miles said.
Dickson, Landry start
Sophomore tight end Travis Dickson got the first start of his career Friday as LSU opened in a two-tight end formation. Sophomore wide receiver Jarvis Landry got his second career start, but his first start this season.
Dickson has filled in as LSU’s No. 2 tight end behind Nic Jacobs, suspended from the team for violating team rules.
He led the Tigers with 69 yards on five catches in a victory over Ole Miss in LSU’s final home game, but did not record a catch against Arkansas. He started at tight end along with senior Chase Clement, the team’s primary starter at the position.
Landry’s other start came against Kentucky last season.
The former Lutcher High standout finished with a team-high eight catches Friday, including an acrobatic, one-handed 22-yard touchdown reception from Mettenberger in the second quarter.