Last Modified: Friday, November 23, 2012 9:27 PM
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Another week, another cliff-hanger.
It wouldn’t be this year’s LSU season without one more hold-your-breath moment before the Tigers turn their attention to the postseason.
There were many on frigid day in Reynolds-Razorback Stadium, but the Tigers finally survived one last Tyler Wilson pass into their end zone, and when it fell incomplete LSU escaped Saturday with a 20-13 victory.
It was the Razorbacks’ fourth scoring threat of the game that came up empty, even though the Razorbacks (4-7, 2-6 Southeastern Conference) had half again as many yards as the Tigers and kept the pressure on most of the day.
“We didn’t have a lot of points,” LSU head coach Les Miles said. “But we scored just enough.”
Imagine how the upstart Razorbacks felt after outgaining LSU 462-306.
“We had an opportunity to win the football game,” Arkansas interim head coach John L. Smith said after what was all but certain to be his last game. “That’s what you try to do. We had an opportunity. A big play here, a big play there and we would have been OK.”
But a lot of it went for nothing.
“Our defense kept it in front of them,” Miles said of a bright spot. “If we had tackled better it would have been different. We needed to tackle better on the short routes.
“We felt like if we had tackled better it might have been different.”
LSU (10-2, 6-2) has an outside chance of reaching the SEC Championship Game — but only if lowly Auburn pulls off the upset of the century against No. 2 Alabama today.
“We’ll take the next day and a half and see how things go,” Miles said.
Of course, Arkansas wasn’t given much of a chance coming in against the Tigers, either.
“It’s very difficult for me to believe they aren’t bowl eligible,” Miles said. “With their talent … they played and gave everything they had. Great effort on their part.”
LSU had its moments — just enough, as it turned out — while manufacturing enough points to get out of town despite just one long, sustained touchdown drive.
Jarvis Landry came up with maybe LSU’s best reception of the season for a 22-yard touchdown grab and Michael Ford’s 87-yard kickoff return set up a 1-yard run by Jeremy Hill for the Tigers’ lone touchdowns. Drew Alleman connected on a career-best 49-yard field in the first half and another of 27 yards out that gave the Tigers a touchdown cushion before holding off Arkansas’s final attack.
Otherwise, the LSU offense often struggled.
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who came in with a string of three consecutive games of 250 yards or more, was held to 217 against the SEC’s worst pass defense and was sacked three times. The Tigers’ usually solid running game managed 89 yards, 17 in the second half.
“They came after us,” Miles admitted. “They stunted, they blitzed, they did the right thing. We have to throw the ball better, we have to protect the quarterback better. I give credit to the opponent.”
The Razorbacks almost took more than that, with quarterback Tyler Wilson finishing his career by strafing the Tigers for 359 yards while completing 31 of 52 passes.
But he needed one more completion after driving the Hogs to the LSU 18 and LSU’s Jalen Collins had Mekale McKay well covered for the final pass that sailed over both of their heads.
It was a familiar empty feeling for the Razorbacks, who lost a fumble on the LSU 2-yard on the game’s opening possession, while Josh Downs blocked one Arkansas field goal attempt and another went awry on its own.
“The turnover on the 2-yard line was the key in the game,” Miles said.
LSU led 10-0 at the half and 17-3 after Ford answered an early third-quarter field goal with his long kickoff return to set up a score.
But Arkansas wouldn’t go away.
“It’s frustrating, you want to put them away,” said Hill, who led LSU with 77 yards rushing. “It’s tough when you don’t score touchdowns.
“We fought hard; we won the game. We just did enough to win the game. Sometimes you play a game like this and you just have to do enough. We did enough tonight.”
LSU’s biggest defensive stand may have been one that did give up points. The Tigers held Arkansas to a field goal after the Razorbacks had first-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line with a chance to tie the score at 17-17.
The home crowd booed forcefully when the field goal unit trotted out, but Smith stood by his decision. Afterward, publicly at least, so did Wilson.
“We ended up getting a field goal there, so we got points out of it,” the Razorbacks quarterback said. “We had a chance there at the end to go score … it could have gone either way.
“I think he made the right decision and we had a chance to go down there and score at the end.”