With about three and a half minutes to play in the first half of Friday’s game, LSU sophomore Tyrann Mathieu turned an Arkansas punt into a sudden burst of sound.
Third-ranked Arkansas had taken an early two-touchdown lead against the nation’s No. 1 team, but Mathieu officially turned all the momentum back to LSU when he raced 92 yards for a game-tying score.
As he crossed the goal line, Mathieu carried the emotions of 93,108 fans with him.
“I could hear Tiger Stadium rocking in my cleats,” he said.
The second-largest crowd to ever witness an LSU home game surely sensed what Mathieu and his teammates were up to.
So what if the Tigers had not trailed by more than three points all season? So what if Arkansas, playing for a potential berth in the Southeastern Conference title game, had made a habit of beating higher ranked LSU teams in the past?
With the return by Mathieu at the heart of a quick, three-touchdown blitz at the end of the first half, the Tigers took control of Arkansas by halftime and piled it on late in a 41-17 romp.
“There was never a question in anybody’s mind on that sideline that they were going to respond,” Miles said. “It really was just a matter of time.”
Only a matter of time, that is, before LSU rolled to its 11th double-digit victory in 12 regular-season games.
But this one was interesting early.
Arkansas jumped ahead 7-0 with 14:54 left in the second quarter when Tyler Wilson found Jarius Wright from 13 yards out, capping an 11-play, 62-yard drive in which the Razorbacks made the middle of LSU’s Eric Reid-less defense look vulnerable.
Less than three minutes later, LSU running back Michael Ford had the ball dislodged by the helmet of Arkansas safety Tramain Thomas. Ford lay on the ground as Alonzo Highsmith scooped the fumble out of the air and zoomed toward the end zone.
Forty-seven yards later, the Razorbacks had their 14-0 lead.
“As it came out of my hands, I felt like the world just dropped on my shoulders,” Ford said.
The Tigers growled back on their ensuring offensive possession, marching 77 yards on 14 plays to make it a seven-point game. The defense then forced a three-and-out by Arkansas to send Dylan Breeding and the punting unit onto the field.
Deep in LSU territory, Mathieu waited.
Mathieu started toward the left sideline, then forced Jerry Franklin to the turf as he made a quick cut back to the right. A block by Stefoin Francois near the 50 took Breeding out of the play.
From there, it was smooth sailing.
“I knew I had to make a play for my team,” Mathieu said. “That was a key moment where the team needed a touchdown on that one.”
Mathieu had not scored a touchdown or forced a turnover since the Florida game Oct. 8, but the Bednarik Award finalist finished Friday with a stat line reminiscent of his early season form.
In addition to the punt return, he led LSU with eight tackles, forced two fumbles and recovered one.
A series after tying the game, Mathieu forced the ball away from Dennis Johnson, and Ron Brooks recovered the fumble at the LSU 34. The Tigers were in business again. Jordan Jefferson’s 9-yard touchdown strike to Russell Shepard with 59 seconds to play capped a pass-heavy drive that gave LSU a 21-14 lead entering halftime.
The rout was soon on.
It all started when Mathieu caught Breeding’s punt with the Tigers trailing by seven and proceeded to bring the noise.
“Everybody wants to make that big play,” Mathieu said. “I got my chance and took advantage of it.”