FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - With nothing to play for but no reason to hold back, Arkansas came out in the second half and played loose Friday when No. 8-ranked LSU came to town.
That was enough to make the Tigers work a lot harder than expected.
It wasn't enough for the Razorbacks to finish a dismal season with a win, though, as LSU came away with a 20-13 victory at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
LSU took control of the game with a fourth-quarter drive that culminated with Drew Alleman's 28-yard field goal with 1:26 to play.
That series got a spark from Odell Beckham Jr.'s 47-yard catch-and-run to convert a third down with three minutes to go.
The win pushes LSU to 10-2 overall and 6-2 in the SEC, which means a stunning Auburn win against No. 2-ranked Alabama on Saturday would send LSU to the SEC Championship Game if Texas A&M also beats Missouri to force a three-way tie in the West Division.
"This team knows how to win at the back end of games," Tigers coach Les Miles said in a much more subdued postgame press conference than the one six days earlier when his impromptu rant went viral. "That's maybe the best characteristic of this team."
Clinging to a 17-13 lead, LSU got the ball back in the fourth quarter with 5:27 to play after an Arkansas punt.
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger made the first big play of the series when he zipped a hitch pass to Jarvis Landry, who spun out of a tackle and carved out 11 yards for a first down.
Two running plays netted another first down, but from the Tigers' 36-yard-line, they faced third down. Mettenberger dropped back, rifled a pass across the field on the right sideline to Beckham, who wiggled out of cornerback Will Hines' ankle tackle twice and raced down the sideline for 47 yards.
That got LSU into field-goal range, and four players later Alleman split the uprights to give LSU a seven-point lead with 1:26 on the clock.
"I saw I had a chance to break it and score, and it was also one of those times where you want to stay in bounds and keep the clock moving," said Beckham, who sparked LSU with an 89-yard punt return for a score in a 41-35 win over Ole Miss the week before. "I also wanted to have ball security and not give up the chance for points."
The Hogs (4-8, 2-6) drove down to the LSU 18-yard line with four Tyler Wilson passes gobbling up 59 yards. But after Wilson spiked the ball to stop the clock, his throw to Mekale McKay in the end zone fell incomplete as time ran out.
Interim Arkansas coach John L. Smith - coaching in his final game - praised a Razorbacks' defense that limited the Tigers to 306 total yards and 16 first downs. LSU managed only 18 second-half rushing yards and finished with a season-low 89 on the ground.
"Our defense played their tail off, they really did," Smith said. "They stepped up and took away the run. It forced (LSU) to have to throw the ball.
"We had to rely on those guys and say 'Go do it one more time. Go get the ball back one more time with 6 minutes to go.' And they did. We had a chance to win and that's all you can ask."
Because of Arkansas' spirited effort, the Tigers did not look like a team in a championship hunt through most of Friday's game.
Trailing 10-0 at halftime, the Razorbacks produced 10 points in the third quarter to turn the game around.
The only saving grace for LSU was Michael Ford's 86-yard kickoff return following an Arkansas field goal that had trimmed the LSU lead to 10-3.
Ford, who botched the opening kickoff of the second half, slipped out of trouble near the left sideline and kicked in his speed to get to the corner on the right side. Before he could reach the end zone, Cameron Bryan ran Ford out of bounds to save the touchdown.
That only temporarily stopped LSU, though. Starting from the Arkansas' 14-yard line, Jeremy Hill got the ball three times, and he eventually reached the end zone on a one-yard blast to stretch the lead to 17-3.
The Razorbacks' offense started clicking after that, piecing together a seven-play, 74-yard touchdown march that Wilson and McKay capped with a beautiful 28-yard connection on a timing pattern down the left sideline.
When LSU had to punt on the ensuing series, Arkansas got the ball back at its own 20 and marched 79 yards on seven plays to get inches away from a potential tying touchdown. Included in the drive was a 36-yard pass to tailback Jonathan Williams on a fourth-and-1 play.
But Wilson threw incomplete on second-and-goal from the 1 and LSU stacked him up for no gain on third down. With a chance to forge the tie, Smith instead opted for an 18-yard field goal by John Henson, who kicked the ball through as boos cascaded down.
Most of the rest of the game was a battle for field position as the teams swapped punts by two of the SEC's best punters. LSU's Brad Wing delivered the biggest kick when he uncorked a 69-yard bomb.
That led to the final turn of events when the Tigers got the field goal to leave just enough breathing room for a 10th victory, the sixth time they have won at least 10 games in Miles' eight seasons.
"We didn't have a lot of points, but we scored just enough," Miles said.
In a herky-jerky first half, LSU grabbed a 10-0 lead despite a near standoff in the statistical department.
The only place where the Tigers had a clear advantage was in turnover margin, and that was a major difference.
Arkansas took the opening kickoff and was poised to jump in front, moving 55 yards rather easily to set up first-and-goal from the 9-yard line.
Wilson swung a pass to Dennis Johnson, who carved out seven yards and appeared to be end-zone bound. But Lamin Barrow drilled the Hogs' running back, forcing a fumble, and LSU's Chancey Aghayere pounced on the loose ball at the 2-yard-line.
LSU didn't capitalize on that chance, but did get a pair of first downs and inched ahead in the field-position battle when Arkansas muffed a punt that the Razorbacks recovered.
On the first play after the near giveaway, Wilson launched a deep pass down the right sideline and was woefully short. Tharold Simon adjusted in coverage and snared an interception, dodged the first tackler and weaved his way downfield 21 yards to the Hogs' 40-yard line.
The Tigers couldn't get a first down, but got close enough for Alleman to boot a career-long 49-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
The lead stayed the same until right before halftime when LSU pieced together its best drive of the first half after Arkansas' Zach Hocker missed a 40-yard field goal that was deflected by Bennie Logan.
With the Tigers leaning on Hill and Spencer Ware, with the short passing game mixed in, they methodically moved down the field. The drive was in trouble at the Arkansas 39, with LSU facing third-and-4. With the play clock running out, Mettenberger called a timeout just in the nick of time.
The Razorbacks' coaches disagreed a little too much that the call was in time, and they were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Three plays later - again on third down - Mettenberger faked a handoff and rifled a pass to Landry on a seam pattern to the left side. Landry dove and made a one-handed grab at the back of the end zone for the only touchdown of the first 30 minutes.
NOTES: Friday's game was the first between LSU and Arkansas in Fayetteville since 1992. Starting the following season, the Tigers and Razorbacks played in Little Rock every other season. ... Wilson eclipsed Ryan Mallett as Arkansas' all-time leader in passing yards late in the first half and finished with 359 yards Friday to give him 7,765 for his career. ... Cobi Hamilton caught 10 passes in a game for the fifth time in 2012 and finished with an SEC-leading 90 receptions for 1,355 yards - also a league best. His totals ranks third in SEC history in receptions and fourth in single-season yards. ... Hill's 1-yard TD run was his 10th season, which matches LSU's season record by a freshman back. ... Mettenberger finished with 217 passing yards, his fourth in a row over 200.