LSU goes 99 yards, rallies to beat Arkansas

Peter Finney Jr., The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

BATON ROUGE -- Trailing 27-24 with 3:04 left, LSU freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings was 99 yards from the north end zone at Tiger Stadium. No one could have blamed him if his untested heart was pounding out of his chest.
The 15th-ranked Tigers, who entered the game as 25-point favorites against an Arkansas team that had lost eight consecutive games, had sleepwalked their way into a monumental dilemma.
When punter Sam Irwin-Hill's 65-yard punt was touched down at the LSU 1-yard line, Jennings had to respond. And Jennings did, throwing a 49-yard bomb to reserve wide receiver Travin Dural with 1:15 left to lift LSU (9-3, 5-3 SEC) to an improbable 31-27 comeback victory over the Razorbacks.
"What a game -- what a game -- wow!" LSU coach Les Miles said, scarcely containing his emotions. "Don't pretend for a moment that this doesn't touch a coach. It touches a coach. For me to say I expected that 99 yards -- no big deal -- was not likely. I can just tell you. That tells me something about that guy (Jennings)."
Jennings, who had thrown only three passes all season while watching starter Zach Mettenberger set a flurry of LSU passing records, was thrust into the game with six minutes left when Mettenberger sustained a left knee injury. Mettenberger went down writhing in pain -- the result of a hit by linebacker Byran Jones -- after completing a 32-yard pass to wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who made a circus catch.
That completion set up a 37-yard field goal by Colby Delahoussaye, which cut the deficit to 27-24 with 4:56 left.
After the LSU defense forced a critical three-and-out, Jennings looked unflappable on the 99-yard, game-winning drive. He got some breathing room by picking up two yards on a first-down sneak, and then hit tight end Dillon Gordon on a 15-yard strike to the 19. Jennings then completed an 11-yard sideline pass to Jarvis Landry, and on the next play Jennings bounced away from pressure for a 21-yard scramble to the Arkansas 49.
After an incompletion and a pass to running back Jeremy Hill that went for no gain, Jennings faced third-and-10. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron had noticed that Arkansas' secondary was creeping up on Dural, a freshman wide receiver who had caught only six passes all season, and decided to roll the dice.
Behind good protection, Jennings lofted a strike down the left sidelines, and Dural was in the clear by 10 yards when he caught the scoring pass and raced into the end zone.
"We just told him to relax and play ball," Miles said of Jennings. "His composure and poise just seemed to say, 'I can do this.' Cam did a great job. He had to call plays (Jennings) was comfortable with.
"When we got to about midfield, Cam was saying, 'This corner (Jared Collins) doesn't realize this is Travin Dural, and he can run. Let's take a shot.'"
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was crestfallen by the result.
"You've got them in a two-play down, third and long," Bielema said. "We knew that we had to keep that quarterback -- he's a good athlete -- bottled in there. We were in deep-path coverage -- we had a deep-path player -- but it obviously wasn't there."
LSU cornerback Dwayne Thomas iced the game on Arkansas' last possession by forcing a blindside fumble by quarterback Brandon Allen, who had thrown two touchdown passes to tight end Hunter Henry to put Arkansas in position for the upset.
Arkansas (3-9, 0-8) hurt its cause by failing to capitalize fully on two Mettenberger turnovers -- a fumble on a sack near the end of the first half and an interception on a high pass during LSU's first possession of the third quarter. The Razorbacks had to settle for 20- and 28-yard field goals by Zach Hocker after getting the ball twice inside the LSU 39. They still led 20-14.
Combining those offensive shortcomings with the defensive lapse at the end, Bielma said his players have a lot from which to learn next season.
"The only thing I asked them to do is take what you learned here and take it home with you," Bielema said. "Don't leave it in Baton Rouge or we'll never overcome where we are right now."
LSU had regained the lead at 21-20 with 7:35 left in the third quarter on Jeremy Hill's explosive 52-yard run off left tackle. But Arkansas came right back, driving 75 yards on 15 plays to take a 27-21 lead on Allen's 2-yard flip to tight end Hunter Henry on a blown coverage.
Coming off a dominant 34-10 rout of Texas A&M six days earlier, LSU looked emotionally flat against the Razorbacks in the first half. The Tigers raced to a 14-7 first-quarter lead on touchdown runs of 29 and 23 yards by Terrence Magee, but Arkansas didn't blink.
Even though the Razorbacks had a 100-yard kickoff return by Karliss Marshall wiped out by an illegal block on Daunte Carr, they marched 86 yards in eight plays to tie the score 7-7 on a 3-yard run by Kiero Small out of the wildcat formation.
Then, trailing 14-7, the Razorbacks uncorked another 86-yard drive to tie the score on Allen's 9-yard pass to Henry in the back of the end zone.
NOTES: LSU WR Odell Beckham Jr. sustained a right hip flexor injury on a 20-yard reverse midway through the second quarter and did not return. ... RB Alex Collins became the first true freshman to rush for 1,000 yards for Arkansas since Darren McFadden in 2005. He leads all freshman running backs in the nation in rushing yardage. ... LSU, which went 7-0 at home this season, could record its fourth consecutive 10-win season with a bowl victory. ... This was the first Arkansas team since 1942 to lose every conference game (0-8).