LSU beats Arkansas to retain Golden Boot, earn 500th program home victory
BATON ROUGE — After a week off following their loss to Alabama, the 25th-ranked LSU Tigers were looking to begin the final three games of the regular season with a win over the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Historically, the Battle for the Golden Boot has been one of the most difficult games on the LSU schedule. The schools split the last 10 meetings in the series entering today’s contest.
This one proved to be no different as the Tigers were able to shake off a lackluster first half and beat the Razorbacks 33-10 in Death Valley.
Ed Orgeron improved to 2-0 against Arkansas as LSU’s head coach. The win was also the 500th home victory in program history.
LSU’s defense came out raging from the outset. They held Arkansas to 39 total yards in the first 15 minutes, and 318 for the game. The Tigers gave up 10 points or less for the third time this season, and their first against an SEC opponent.
“We want to shut everybody out,” said Devin White, who had 14 tackles in the game and has 103 this season. “We really wanted to get a goose egg this game but it didn’t work out. But we wanted to limit them to the lowest amount of points that we possibly could.”
“I thought out defense was outstanding for most of the game,” said Orgeron. “I thought Dave (Aranda) did a tremendous job of gameplanning Arkansas.”
However, the LSU offense took some time to get going. The Tigers average starting field position in the quarter was their own 43 yard line. A three and out on their first drive was followed by a missed 32-yard field goal by Connor Culp. Finally, on LSU’s third possession, the Tigers were able to take advantage.
On second and eight from the Arkansas 45 yard line, Danny Etling found his favorite target, DJ Chark, wide open down the left sideline. It was Chark’s first recieving touchdown of the season and fourth of his career. The extra point was good and LSU had a 7-0 lead.
“Last year (Chark) thought about going out, and I’m so glad he stayed,” added Orgeron. “Mickey Joseph has done a tremendous job of coaching him. Jerry Sullivan is helping us coach Mickey. I think his route running has been a lot better, his footwork has been a lot better.”
“Me and Danny worked very hard this week,” added Chark, who has averaged better than 50 yards on his five career touchdown receptions. “Just me and him trying to get things to work on our deep passes and we were able to show it tonight.”
The second quarter saw the teams exchange punts for most of the way. Etling was just 2-for-5 passing for 13 yards and the Tigers gained only three yards on the ground on six carries. The defense continued to dominate up until the final Arkansas drive of the half.
Starting at their own 14 yard line, the Razorbacks marched 86 yards in 10 plays. Austin Allen was a perfect 3-for-3 on the drive for 40 yards and Devwah Whaley carried the load on the ground with four carries for 23 yards, including a one-yard touchdown run with 16 seconds left in the half. Connor Limpert’s extra point tied the game at seven, and that’s how the teams entered the break.
The halftime stats were nearly as even as the score. Both teams had eight first downs; LSU carried a slight edge in rushing yards (59-50) while Arkansas led in passing yardage 82-76. The Razorbacks also edged the Tigers in time of possession, 15:05 to 14:55. It was a surprising and disappointing for LSU, who came in favored by 16.5 points.
“I thought offensively we were very sluggish,” Orgeron said of his team’s first half effort. “It seemed like their defense was penetrating a lot more than we thought. The sacks and tackles for loss and then we had a couple of balls that we missed…But I was proud that nobody blinked.”
“There was no hollering and screaming at halftime. We just stuck to the game plan and we took what they gave us and we came out in the second half and we won the game.”
Whatever Ed Orgeron told his team at halftime lit a fire under the Tigers. On the opening drive of the third quarter, LSU went 75 yards on eight plays. Etling was 3-for-3 passing for 43 yards and Derrius Guice picked up 15 yards on three carries. Guice finished the drive with a six yard touchdown run, but Culp’s extra point attempt was no good and the Tigers took a 13-7 lead.
The Razorbacks answered with a 38-yard field goal by Limpert to pull within three at 13-10. LSU came right back with a five-play, 65 yard drive led by Guice. He rushed it three times for 56 yards, including going in untouched over the left side of the line for a 33-yard touchdown. The Tigers led 19-10.
LSU went back to the quick strike on its next possession. Facing a 3rd and nine, Etling found Chark streaking down the right side for a 68-yard score, extending the lead to 16 at 26-10 with 14:52 to play . Chark would finish the game with 4 catches for 130 yards and a career-high two scores.
Taking over with 7:02 remaining in the fourth quarter, Arkansas turned the ball over on downs. Cole Kelly was stuffed on fourth and one and LSU took over at the Arkansas 22 yard line.
Guice would put the cherry on top of this one five plays later, scoring his third rushing touchdown of the game from one yard out, giving the Tigers a 33-10 lead. The junior running back picked up 147 yards on 21 attempts on the afternoon, the 11th 100-yard game of his career.
“Greedy” Williams intercepted Allen in the end zone on Arkansas’ final possession to rub a little more salt in the wound.
It wasn’t LSU’s best effort of the season, but it got the job done. With two games remaining, the Tigers remain in position for a 9-3 finish and a quality bowl bid.
Say what you will about the early season stumbles, but Orgeron and his staff have coached this team up. With the amount of youth and lack of depth at key positions, a possible 10-win season would be a tremendous success for the coach and the program.
“The beginning of the season wasn’t what we wanted,” Orgeron said. “I think the leadership, the belief, the grit, the competitive nature…learning to when we make a bad play to let it go and play the next play. I think that’s what you see from this team. I think they practice harder. We have better leadership on this football team and this team wants to have a good football team.”
“It’s all about the leaders,” said White. “Everybody comes to practice ready to work and dialed in at it shows out there on the field.”
LSU (7-3, 4-2 SEC) will travel to Knoxville to face another one of Orgeron’s former schools when they take on Tennessee (4-5, 0-5) next week. Kickoff is set for 6:00pm.
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David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…