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LSU quarterback Danny Etling (16) celebrates the touchdown by LSU running back Derrius Guice (5) during the first half of the LSU-Arkansas football game Saturday Nov. 12, 2016, at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FEIG

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — They were tired and they were cold, but when the clocks in Razorback Stadium showed all zeroes, they sprinted across the chilled artificial turf to bring home their prize.

Say what you want about The Boot, but for the LSU Tigers, it was a holy grail after a week of self-recriminations in the wake of yet another loss to Alabama.

That game is over now. Nothing LSU can do about that. All the Tigers could do was try to win this game on this Saturday, and silence a couple of seasons' worth of doubts.

Hush, you demons. You can’t bother the Tigers this week. Not after an dominant, statement-making 38-10 victory over Arkansas.

“It meant a lot to our guys to get that trophy,” said LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron, who may have a trophy win of his own to take home. “It was a tough week for everybody. It was good to see them happy.”

It's a cold and bitter wind that has blown through the past two Novembers for LSU. The Tigers have seen the tall trees of their late-season aspirations cut down to kindling by a one-two gut punch of a loss to Alabama then a loss to Arkansas. Last season, of course, they threw in a painful loss at Ole Miss for good measure, a three-game losing streak that at the time nearly forced Les Miles out of office.

Miles survived for a time, but this is Orgeron’s time now. Time for a high-pressured audition to determine whether he has the stuff, the right stuff, to lead LSU football forward.

Last Saturday’s 10-0 loss to Alabama was a sobering and painful blow. But this was the chance for Orgeron and his team to make something happen, to own something that the Tigers were unable to do the past two seasons, marked by humbling 17-point losses to the Razorbacks.

“I think we all had a chip, something we all wanted to prove,” said Orgeron, who made one of his many coaching stops as an Arkansas assistant strength coach 30 years ago. “Everyone was disappointed with our performance (against Alabama), but it’s a new week and we’re happy about tonight. We had great practices. I could tell before the game that we had a lot of energy. We had tremendous leadership by Leonard (Fournette) and Duke (Riley). We have a good football team.”

There were miscues and missteps for the Tigers, but in an inhospitable place like this, you take what you can get and get out of Dodge with a win (and The Boot). This was a significant step forward for the team and for the man who would be its long-term coach, a victory that in LSU precincts will be chicken soup for the soul.

“Arkansas sees us as an easy victory after Alabama,” tailback Derrius Guice said, an edge of defiance in his words. “I’m just proud we were able to bring it home.”

 

Does this team want to win for Coach O?

“Yeah,” said Guice, his cleats still smoking after a 252-yard rushing effort that included a school-record 96-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. “It would be great for the team because we’re comfortable with him.”

Against Alabama, LSU’s defense looked sharp all night while the offense was cutting with a dull blade. Against Arkansas, the Tigers carved up the Razorbacks like they were the Thanksgiving ham. Most of the night, you could have driven LSU’s equipment-hauling 18-wheeler through the gaping holes in the Arkansas defensive front. Time after time, Fournette and Guice weren’t even touched by a Razorbacks defender until they got past the line of scrimmage.

The game couldn’t have started any better than Orgeron and his staff could have scripted. LSU’s defense held Arkansas to minus-3 yards on a three-and-out, then the Tigers marched 75 yards to score on an emphatic 5-yard run by Fournette.

Soon it was 14-0 after Fournette cashed in on an interception that Donnie Alexander returned 14 yards to the Arkansas 18. Then it was 21-0 after Guice crashed over from the 3, a touchdown set up by a 48-yard bomb from Danny Etling to Malachi Dupre to the Hogs’ 15.

“It’s always important to try to take the crowd out of the game,” said Etling, who threw for 157 yards on 10-of-16 passing. We’ve had a tough time this season getting off to fast starts and getting points on our first possession. It was one of the goals we had, one of our keys to victory.”

LSU has allowed as many as 21 points only once, against Ole Miss, so the arithmetic weighed heavily in the Tigers’ favor well before halftime. When the Razorbacks could only convert a Fournette fumble early in the third quarter into a field goal and the Tigers responded with another Fournette 3-yard touchdown run to go up 28-10, the Hogs were cooked.

A hit at some point in the second quarter had Fournette limping back and forth from the sideline most of the night until Orgeron told him to (literally) take the gloves off and admire Guice’s handiwork.

Fortunately for LSU, there’s Guice. His 96-yarder now stands as the longest play from scrimmage in school history, eclipsing the record of 94 yards set by LSU great Jesse Fatheree way back in 1935.

Sorry, Jesse. Your record was a casualty of a night, a win, that these modern-day Tigers and their coach really needed. Just something else to accompany the trophy they are now so thrilled to own once again.