The first big play swung in LSU’s favor. Then, it was Arkansas’ turn.
The No. 9 Tigers’ defense surrendered two long touchdowns in the first 16 minutes of Saturday night’s showdown in Tiger Stadium, creating a 14-point deficit its offensive counterparts couldn’t erase. The Razorbacks then sealed their 31-14 upset victory with a 69-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
LSU coach Les Miles said his defense played hard, but he couldn’t deny the effect those three big plays, all touchdowns of 52 yards or more, had on the game.
“Really, three mistakes,” Miles said. “We can’t play defense like that. ...Those were three huge, huge plays in this game.”
The two defensive players made available after the game couldn’t point to specifics of what went wrong on each big play. That’s something they’ll be able to do after watching film, they said.
“We have to play better, period,” senior safety Jalen Mills said. “That’s the answer.”
Arkansas (6-4, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) entered the contest with the league’s fifth-best rushing offense and third-ranked passing offense, a rare balance for a team predicated on running the ball.
LSU (7-2, 4-2) held up on the first drive of the night, surrendering a first down before junior defensive tackle Christian LaCouture forced a fumble that sophomore safety Jamal Adams recovered at midfield.
If not for that turnover, things might have been much worse for the Tigers. The Razorbacks scored on their next two drives, silencing the Tiger Stadium crowd with a pair of explosive plays.
Junior receiver Dominique Reed kicked off the scoring with a 52-yard catch-and-run midway through the first quarter. After hauling in an underneath pass, Reed spun toward the right sideline, broke through junior defensive back Dwayne Thomas’ tackle and outraced Adams to the end zone.
Miles pinned the big play on a coverage issue, saying, “All we had to do was keep our feet.”
LSU’s offense responded by going three-and-out for the second time in as many drives, sending its defense back out onto the field with little rest. Senior linebacker Deion Jones sacked quarterback Brandon Allen on third down of the ensuing drive, giving the defense a much-needed lift after Reed’s big touchdown.
It didn’t last long.
Junior running back Alex Collins, who finished with 141 yards on 16 carries behind his massive offensive line, busted an 80-yard touchdown run off right tackle on the next Arkansas possession. Junior safety Rickey Jefferson, the Tigers’ single-high safety on the play, overran the hole as Collins sprinted into the end zone untouched.
“Frankly, it was a leverage issue,” Miles said of the play. “If we have good leverage on that play, that’s a 3-yard gain.”
Arkansas was on the move again late in the first half, but Adams picked off Allen in the end zone.
But the Tigers defense was back out on the field only moments later after a fumble by sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris, and the Razorbacks took advantage of the great field position as Collins made it 21-0 with a 5-yard scoring plunge.
LSU hung tough after halftime, limiting Arkansas to a field goal on its first two second-half drives. The Hogs, however, had one more big play left in the tank.
Trailing 24-14 in the fourth quarter and determined to stop Collins, the Tigers were fooled on a reverse. Sophomore receiver Jared Cornelius took the end-around and beat the only defender in position to stop him on his way to a 69-yard touchdown.
Junior defensive tackle Christian LaCouture said the big plays didn’t demoralize the defense or significantly swing momentum.
“As a team, I think the coaching staff always emphasizes that once a play is done with, you’ve got to get it out of your head and move past it,” he said. “It’s next play up, and you’ve got to move forward.”
The score put Arkansas ahead 31-14 with 10 minutes to play, effectively sealing the Razorbacks’ second upset against LSU in the past two years. Arkansas finished with 440 yards, 229 of which came on the ground.
The Razorbacks punted only twice and racked up eight plays of 10 yards or more, but those three touchdowns made the difference Saturday night.
“That’s very uncharacteristic of us,” Mills said. “That’s not something we let happen, and that’s not something we’re going to try to get used to at all.”