It took a gritty 99-yard drive in the fourth quarter, but the No. 17 LSU Tigers were able to avoid an upset at the hands of the Arkansas Razorbacks at Tiger Stadium, winning 31-27.
Backup quarterback Anthony Jennings led the game-winning drive to move the Tigers past the Razorbacks. The Tigers have now won the Golden Boot three years in a row after the impressive showing Friday:
FINAL: LSU 31, Arkansas 27. Tigers win the Golden Boot for 3rd straight year. Arkansas finishes 3-9, 0-8 in the SEC in Bielema's 1st season— Eye on College FBall (@EyeOnCFB) November 29, 2013
LSU was led by running backs Jeremy Hill and Terrence Magee. The latter handled things in the first half on his way to a total of seven carries for 58 yards and two scores. Hill took things over in the second half and saw 20 carries go for 145 yards and a touchdown.
Before exiting with an injury in the fourth quarter, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger struggled on his way to a 14-of-22 line for 156 yards and an interception.
The LSU defense was shaky as it allowed the Razorbacks to gain 360 yards, but LSU tallied 470—99 of which led to the stunning home victory:
LSU just completed its 15th undefeated season in Tiger Stadium! #LSUWIN— LSU Football (@LSUfball) November 29, 2013
The battle started quietly. Arkansas took the ball first and punted it away after a quick three-and-out.
Then the game got hectic.
LSU's first drive went 70 yards in seven plays via a balance of rush and pass to keep the Razorbacks guessing. Magee gave the Tigers the 7-0 lead after an impressive 29-yard touchdown scamper with just over 11 minutes left in the first quarter.
Bret Bielema's team seemed to then awaken from its post-Thanksgiving slumber. A holding penalty on the kickoff return negated a touchdown, but that didn't slow Arkansas—quarterback Brandon Allen led the Razorbacks down the field 86 yards before fullback Kiero Small took a direct snap into the end zone:
Touchdown Arkansas! Direct snap to Kiero Small who runs it in from 3 yards out for a touchdown. Game is tied at 7-7 with 6:26 in 1st qtr.— KATV News (@KATVNews) November 29, 2013
Small's score tied the game up and ate 4:49 off the clock.
The lengthy drive did little to stop LSU, as Magee then found the end zone for the second time in the first quarter—this time from 23 yards away:
Down 14-7, Arkansas then took over with 3:38 left in the quarter and managed just five plays before a punt. LSU didn't fare any better after an eight-play drive lasting more than four minutes resulted in a punt.
Things got exciting again quickly. Arkansas took the ball back at the 10:47 mark of the second quarter and marched down the field in eight plays to tie the game 14-14 after a nine-yard passing touchdown from Allen to freshman tight end Hunter Henry.
The Razorbacks then used this momentum to halt LSU's next drive after three plays. A Korliss Marshall 32-yard rush meant little for the Razorbacks as Allen then followed it up with a bad throw in the end zone that was intercepted by LSU's Jalen Mills:
Jalen Mills picks off an under-thrown pass in the end zone. Tigers to take over at the 20. 3:39 remaining in half, tied at 14. #LSU— Dandy Don LSU Sports (@dandydonlsu) November 29, 2013
LSU gave the ball right back after five plays via a Mettenberger fumble, which was recovered by Arkansas' Brandon Lewis. Tied 14-14 with 2:03 left in the second quarter, the Razorbacks were able to run out the clock and take a 17-14 lead behind the leg of Zach Hocker.
LSU managed six plays on the opening drive of the second half before the turnover bug hit Mettenberger again. This time the senior threw a dangerous pass over the middle that was intercepted by Alan Turner. The Razorbacks sputtered offensively, but used the good field position to take a 20-14 lead with another field goal from Hocker.
Suddenly, LSU woke up.
The Tigers needed just five plays to go 75 yards and a take a 21-20 lead. Running back Jeremy Hill was the star of the drive, as he rumbled 52 yards for the score:
Arkansas then elected to slow things down after getting the ball back with 7:35 left in the third quarter. The Razorbacks held the ball for 6:45 on 15 plays before Allen found Henry for their second touchdown connection of the game, this time to take a 27-21 lead.
The Tigers followed the same formula on their next drive with 13 plays that ate 6:30 of the clock, but with one critical exception—the Tigers went for it on fourth down and failed:
LSU goes on 4th-and-2 in the red zone, Mettenberger's pass to Hill is short. Arky takes over, up 27-21, 9:20 4Q. 6+ min drive nets nothing.— Eye on College FBall (@EyeOnCFB) November 29, 2013
Luckily for LSU, the defense was able to force a quick three-and-out. The Tigers were able to move within three points after a 37-yard field goal from Colby Delahoussaye, but the real story was the status of Mettenberger after a low hit to his left knee earlier in the drive. Brett Martel of the Associated Press captured the moment:
#LSU QB Mettenberger being helped off the field, favoring his left leg, in his final game in Death Valley. Big applause, but he's in pain.— Brett Martel (@brettmartel) November 29, 2013
Arkansas then took over with 4:56 left in regulation and was forced to punt after three plays. The punt from Sam Irwin-Hill was a beauty that the Razorbacks were able to down at the one-yard line.
LSU's Jennings proved up to the task. Under the spotlight, the freshman took the Tigers all 99 yards down the field on eight plays and capped the drive off in style with a 49-yard touchdown pass to Travin Dural.
Down 31-27 with 1:15 to go, the Arkansas offense fizzled after three plays. Allen fumbled to end the game as Jennings was able to kneel the ball and kill the clock.
Key Player Grades
Terrence Magee and Jeremy Hill, LSU: A
Magee and Hill received little help from their passing attack for most of the game. It mattered little with both being able to rip off long runs.
Hill was especially impressive as he wrote his way into the LSU record books per Bill Martin, the team's associate sports information director:
Jeremy Hill becomes 4th RB in @LSUfball career history with double-digit 100 yd rushing games. That's 10. Joins Faulk, Alex., D. Hilliard— Bill Martin (@LSUBillMartin) November 29, 2013
Overall, a very impressive day for both. Magee handled things in the first half, while Hill came in with fresh legs and bruised his way to a successful day.
Brandon Allen, Arkansas: B
Allen was far from perfect, but he did well for himself against LSU considering the Razorbacks are known as a run-first team.
The sophomore managed a 19-of-29 day for 178 yards, two scores and an interception.
While he was unable to lead the Razorbacks to victory, Allen was impressive outside of one poor throw and a fumble to close the game.
Zach Mettenberger, LSU: C
Mettenberger had a miserable first half in what should have been an easy outing for the talented senior as Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee illustrates:
Arkansas' pass D is 11th in the SEC (235.3 YPG). LSU had 67 passing yards in the first half.— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) November 29, 2013
Alas, Mettenberger came out on the first drive of the second half and threw an interception. His day was then cut short in the fourth due to injury.
Jarvis Landry, LSU: A
Landry did all he could in the game to propel his team, but gave fans the highlight of the game in the fourth quarter:
The junior ended with eight receptions for 113 yards as the team's leading receiver.
On a day with multiple quarterbacks and a run-first approach, Landry still managed to put together quite the performance.
LSU moves to 9-3 to end the season and will have to anxiously await the next BCS poll to see if they lose footing after the close scare Friday against Arkansas.
The Razorbacks fall to 3-9 and failed to record a win in conference play.