FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The stands in Razorback Stadium were littered with seat cushions, blankets, hand warmers and the occasional flask, all abandoned in the mad rush by tens of thousands of Arkansas fans to storm the field.
That’s what happens when you go from 0-17 in Southeastern Conference play to a 17-0 shutout of one of your biggest SEC West rivals. It didn’t hurt that said rival, LSU, pushed to have the game with Arkansas pushed up in the schedule so it could play what it considers a bigger rival (Texas A&M) in the regular-season finale.
These last two years since Arkansas’ last SEC win must have felt like “Groundhog Day” for the Razorbacks:
“It’s going to be cold, it’s going to be gray and it’s going to last you for the rest of your life.”
For LSU, the gray mood never quite abated, even as cold, black night fell over this ice floe of a football field on which the Tigers’ hopes for victory quickly melted.
The answer for the Razorbacks’ SEC losing curse was a visit by LSU, which could have gone through a few Bill Murray “Groundhog Day” repeats without generating enough yards and points to make a difference in this game.
Just three weeks ago, it was LSU fans storming a much warmer field in Tiger Stadium after a 10-7 upset of then-No. 3 Ole Miss. It was the culmination of a three-game winning that resurrected the Tigers’ season.
Or so it seemed.
That celebration seems so long ago in the debris-strewn aftermath of just the second losing streak of the Les Miles decade.
This numbing defeat by the Razorbacks, coming on the heels of last Saturday’s 20-13 overtime loss to Alabama, has flash frozen the momentum the Tigers’ built up through that Ole Miss win.
Even that victory masked what has become a serious power shortage for LSU’s offense.
The Tigers scored only 10 points in that game, though it could have been 20 without a missed field goal by Colby Delahoussaye and a fumble at the goal line by Leonard Fournette.
LSU controlled the ball for huge swaths of the second half against Alabama but only got two field goals to show for it that weren’t enough.
Then this on Saturday night at Arkansas from the Tigers offense. This dead battery. This 123 net yards of offense, which from the very start it seemed would result in the Tigers giving the starved-for-victory Razorbacks The Boot (the series trophy) but good.
“Those guys were hungry,” running back Terrence Magee said.
“You could see it. Most of the time they shake hands afterward, but they just went for the trophy.”
Arkansas was on a crusade to break a painfully long conference losing skid to show that there is some blip of a pulse to their program under second-year coach Bret Bielema.
LSU’s goals sailed away on the breeze generated by Bama blowing past the Tigers last week. By comparison to Arkansas, they didn’t have as much to play for.
That part is understandable. It’s human nature to have the burner beneath your desire get extinguished after a loss like that. There were times here on the Ross Ice Shelf when the Tigers just looked like they wanted get back to their warming hut, er, locker room, pack up and go home.
What isn’t understandable is why the Tigers were so punchless on offense. The Razorbacks were respectable on defense, not great but hardly bad, particularly against the run. Arkansas was allowing just 136.8 rushing yards per game, but LSU stubbornly ran right into the teeth of that defense nonetheless.
Clearly, coach Les Miles doesn’t trust Anthony Jennings to do much in the passing game, as evidenced by his 12-of-22 stat line for 87 yards through the frigid air. But apparently he trusts Brandon Harris even less, because despite saying he would get a chance to “show his wares in the next several games” he remained a popsicle on the sideline the entire game.
“We’d love to get him in the game,” Miles said Wednesday on his radio show. Apparently, Miles didn’t love the idea that much.
“We went with Anthony because he gives us the best chance of winning,” Miles said, a party line getting less acceptable as the offensive struggles mount.
LSU’s offensive woes Saturday weren’t all Jennings’ fault. Not at all. The Tigers were without hard-running tailback Kenny Hilliard, who hurt his shoulder in the Alabama game, and starting left guard Vadal Alexander, who didn’t make the trip because of a hand injury. (From shoving A’Shawn Robinson last week? Nah.)
Miles, of course, has stubbornly stuck with his starter before, the last time LSU was shut out, 21-0 against Alabama in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game. Tiger fans still ask, almost weekly, why Miles didn’t play Jarrett Lee in that game when Jordan Jefferson was so ineffective.
In truth, playing Lee wouldn’t have altered the outcome. Playing Harris wouldn’t have altered the outcome here, either.
But like that one, at least some of the ugliness might have been diminished.Instead, it’s a result that will be mighty tough for LSU fans to endure.