Playing the first five drives about as well as it could play, the LSU defense was likely one stop away from pitching a first-half shutout against an Arkansas offense that’s capable of scoring in the blink of an eye.
LSU held Arkansas to 46 yards and three first downs on the Razorbacks' first 20 snaps, and the Tigers forced five consecutive punts to open the game Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
That’s when Arkansas finally got on track. A 10-play, 86-yard drive ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Devwah Whaley, tying the game at 7-7 with 16 seconds left in the first half.
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Stung by the long drive and score, LSU’s defense went into the locker room and gathered itself, then made adjustments that helped it hold Arkansas to a lone field goal in the second half of a 33-10 victory.
“Most definitely,” defensive back Donte Jackson said when asked if the defense was upset. “We wanted a goose egg. We wanted to shut them out to really make a statement.
“But they drove down and we had a couple coverage busts,” he said. “People were just having their eyes in the wrong place. We came up (at halftime) and said they weren’t going to move the ball on us.”
LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Arkansas hurt the Tigers with screen passes and wheel routes, particularly to tight ends Jeremy Patton and Will Gragg, before defensive coordinator Dave Aranda took that option away at halftime.
“We weren’t playing nakeds, tight end drags, screens,” Orgeron said. “Dave just stuck with it and limited what we were going to do.”
Inside linebacker Devin White, who led LSU with 14 tackles, said Arkansas’ late first-half scoring drive was partly the Tigers’ fault.
“It was one player every time, and it kept happening over and over,” he said. “We came in here and said, ‘We’re going to fix it … we’re going to fix it.’”
After the Tigers’ offense scored the first of its three touchdowns in as many possessions to start the second half for a 13-7 lead, LSU's defense received another test.
Arkansas got a 33-yard pass from Austin Allen to Gragg and later had a first down at the LSU 25, but the Tigers forced a field goal that preserved a three-point lead.
“I thought they responded well,” Orgeron said of that key series.
White said the goal this week was to limit the damage after a team had a big play, which the Tigers did.
“It seems like when we have our backs to the wall after a big play, we always let them score,” he said. “So we wanted to just limit that a little bit today.”
White and his teammates stepped up and forced punts on Arkansas’ next two possessions as LSU’s offense scored touchdowns to create some separation on the scoreboard with a 26-10 advantage early in the final quarter.
A trend has emerged with DJ Chark.
Defensive end Christian LaCouture and nose tackle Greg Gilmore agreed that limiting Arkansas to a field goal early in the second half was key for the defense.
“It was huge; it was another long drive for them,” LaCouture said. “They had us going for a little bit, but I felt like we held our ground.”
Arkansas picked up 63 of its 186 second-half yards on that one drive
There was a time Saturday when it looked more like some sort of Veterans Day parade in Tiger Stadium than a football game.
“Of course, that was big,” Gilmore said. “You’re only one or two plays away from that big play by the offense. It’s a tide-changer, that’s what I call it. You could feel it on the sideline.”