FAYETTEVILLE, ARK. — The LSU Tigers beat the Arkansas Razorbacks 20-13 Friday with nearly four hours worth of physical effort that kept their championship dreams and BCS bowl aspirations alive.
In the time it took to play that game, the Tigers saw those dreams dashed as they sat in their collective easy chairs watching Saturday’s games unfold.
Alabama’s 49-0 rout of Auburn ended LSU’s last faint hopes of returning to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game. The Tigers needed an Alabama loss and a Texas A&M win over Missouri to force a three-way tie that LSU (10-2, 6-2 SEC) would have won.
In short order LSU’s BCS bowl hopes also evaporated, as Florida hung on to win 37-26 at Florida State. Already ranked No. 4 in the BCS standings, the Gators (11-1, 7-1) are all but certain to earn at least an at-large BCS bowl bid by being in the top four.
Florida beat LSU 14-6 back on Oct. 6.
The Tigers’ bowl destination will now almost certainly be in one of four locations: the Capital One (Jan. 1, Orlando, Fla.), the AT&T Cotton (Jan. 4, Arlington, Texas), the Outback (Jan. 1, Tampa, Fla.) or the Chick-fil-A (Dec. 31, Atlanta).
Bowl bids will be extended next Sunday.
Until then, the Tigers will be in a waiting game to find out their fate, much as they were Friday against the Razorbacks (4-8, 2-6).
LSU took a 10-0 halftime lead on the strength of one of the season’s most spectacular plays.
On third-and-8 from the Arkansas 22, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger lofted a pass into a stiff north wind aimed for wide receiver Jarvis Landry in the back of the end zone.
It appeared as if the ball would sail long, but Landry leaped up and snared the ball with his right hand, pulling it in to his chest as he fell to the turf inbounds by mere inches with 1:12 left.
The catch was ESPN’s top play on “SportsCenter” Friday night. For Landry’s teammates, it was an in-game version of the kinds of catches they see him make with stunning frequency in practice.
“He makes ridiculous catches like that every day,” said Mettenberger, who was 16 of 219 passing for 217 yards. “The linebacker was on him, so I had to throw a back shoulder pass and he made a helluva play.
“When I saw him come up I knew he had it.”
Landry, who had team-best eight catches for 75 yards, deferred credit to Mettenberger.
“That was an NFL throw,” Landry said. “He trusted me. “That’s what you’ve been seeing out of Zach with the receivers lately.”
Arkansas got an early field goal to start the second half to make it 10-3, but Michael Ford returned the ensuing kickoff 86 yards from his goal line to the Razorbacks’ 14. From there LSU cashed in, Jeremy Hill smashing over from the 1 with 9:03 left in the third.
The touchdown was Hill’s 10th of the season, tying Justin Vincent in 2003 for the most TDs by an LSU freshman since Dalton Hilliard had 11 in 1982.
Trailing 17-3, the Razorbacks may have been expected to fold as they had numerous times this season. Instead, they were just starting to give the Tigers fits.
With 5:52 left in the third, Tyler Wilson found Mekale McKay in the end zone with a 28-yard touchdown pass to make it 17-10. With 12:17 left in the game, Arkansas interim coach John L. Smith (who was told Sunday he will not return) decided not to try for a tying touchdown from a foot away on fourth-and goal, settling for a 17-yard John Henson field goal to make it 17-13.
After both teams punted twice, LSU took over at its 12 with 5:27 remaining. With the Tigers facing a third-and-10 from their 36, Mettenberger threw to Odell Beckham Jr., who shook a tackler in front of the Arkansas bench and sped 47 yards to the Razorbacks’ 17. LSU ran the clock down to 1:30, with Drew Alleman booting a 27-yard field goal for a 20-13 lead with 1:26 left.
The Razorbacks still wouldn’t give up. With no time outs, Wilson moved Arkansas from its 22 to the LSU 18 with six seconds left. Wilson couldn’t find an open receiver, his last pass sailing well over McKay’s head and through the corner of the end zone as time expired.
Wilson completed 31 of 52 passes for 359 yards with an interception, the most yards through the air against the Tigers this season. LSU gave up 276 yards or more passing in four of its last five games.
“They got some yards on us,” linebacker Lamin Barrow said, “but we kept them out of the end zone. That’s the main goal.”
Arkansas outgained LSU 462-306.
“They gave us everything the had,” said LSU coach Les Miles, who led the Tigers to their sixth season of 10 wins or more in his eight years at the school. “It’s very difficult for me to believe they’re not bowl eligible.”
Despite the fact the Tigers’ depth was severely thinned by injuries, suspensions and departures this season, there was an undercurrent of disappointment over how LSU’s season ended up after starting at preseason No. 1 in the coaches’ poll for the first time since 1959.
“Those two losses are really burning, especially that one in the (SEC) West” to Alabama, said senior guard Josh Dworaczyk. “We didn’t pull it off.”
Cornerback Tharold Simon expressed his disappointment at LSU being shut out of a BCS bowl by tweeting Saturday: “Man I do not want to go to the cotton bowl… But looks like that’s (where we’re) going.”
LSU could wind up in the Cotton for the second time in three seasons, though there is likely strong sentiment for a Texas-Texas A&M matchup there. The Tigers will start the 2013 season at Cowboys Stadium in August.