LSU mauls Arkansas, eyes history
November, 25, 2011
By Chris Low | ESPN.com
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireLSU never looked back after Russell Shepard's touchdown late in the first half.BATON ROUGE, La. -- It’s already been a perfect season for LSU in just about every way.
The No. 1 Tigers ran their record to 12-0 on Friday with a 41-17 shellacking of No. 3 Arkansas at Tiger Stadium, yet another second-half onslaught that all but ensures the Tigers a spot in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 9 in New Orleans.
This team has accomplished a lot this season. The Tigers overcame a rash of off-the-field issues. They overcame key injuries and suspensions. They beat seven nationally ranked teams, including three teams ranked in the top three.
The only team to come within double digits of LSU was Alabama on Nov. 5 when the Tigers survived 9-6 in overtime in Tuscaloosa.
And now it looks like the Crimson Tide might again be lurking around the corner in the BCS National Championship Game if they can take care of their business Saturday at Auburn.
The LSU players all insisted Friday they would be focused squarely on Georgia on Dec. 3 in the SEC championship game, but nobody was exactly running from the idea of a rematch with Alabama, either.
In fact, sophomore defensive end Sam Montgomery suggested that would be the perfect way to cap a perfect season.
“With everything this team has been through, to top it off and play Bama again would be perfect,” Montgomery said. “For all of us to overcome and beat a powerhouse like Alabama would just make the whole year perfect.
“I wouldn’t need anything else.”
Reminded that LSU had already beaten Alabama one time this season, Montgomery smiled and said, “The second time’s the charm.”
It’s been a charmed season for the Tigers, who still have a red-hot Georgia team to deal with before thinking national championship. But even if LSU loses to Georgia and doesn’t get blown out, the Tigers likely would still finish in the top two of the final BCS standings and lock up a berth in the national title game.
“I just want you to know. There will be no way this football team could come to Atlanta and not play their best ... just so you know,” said LSU coach Les Miles, who wasn’t about to go down the “what if” path.
And why should he, especially with the way his team has played this season?
Nothing fazes these Tigers -- bar brawls, suspensions, tough matchups away from home, even 14-0 deficits to start the game.
The last was a new one Friday for this team, which previously hadn’t trailed in any game at home this season.
But the Hogs (10-2, 6-2) went up 14-0 in the second quarter thanks to Tyler Wilson's 13-yard touchdown pass to Jarius Wright and Alonzo Highsmith’s 47-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
“There was no question in anybody’s mind on that sideline that we would respond,” Miles said.
The Tigers didn’t just respond. They sent out purple and gold flares to all corners of the college football world.
“That’s what we do,” said LSU sophomore defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, who returned to his “Honey Badger” form with a 92-yard interception return for a touchdown and two forced fumbles. “When you hit us, we hit back harder. That’s what happens when you go through everything we have this year together.”
Starting with Kenny Hilliard's 6-yard touchdown run at the 5:15 mark of the second quarter, LSU outscored Arkansas 41-3 the rest of the way.
Part of that barrage was Mathieu’s punt return to tie the game at 14-all, and on Arkansas’ next offensive possession, he forced a fumble that led to another LSU touchdown just before the half.
“When you get that chance and you can feel the stadium behind you, you want to make that big play,” said Mathieu, who shifted over to safety because Eric Reid missed the game with a quadriceps injury.
The second half was a carbon copy of what LSU has done all season. The offensive line took matters into its own hands, and the defense was stifling.
The Hogs were held to 89 total yards, including minus-25 rushing yards, in the second half and managed only a field goal. Keep in mind that this was an Arkansas offense that was leading the SEC in total offense and scoring offense coming into the game.
The Tigers sacked Wilson five times, and if you count just the first-team defense, they now have gone six straight games without giving up a touchdown in the second half.
“We play through adversity and stuff like that, but this is a team that has one goal in mind, and that’s winning a national championship,” LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. “That keeps our game at a high level.”
That and a pursuit of history.
“We’ve beaten everybody by double digits except for Alabama,” LSU offensive guard Will Blackwell said. “Our goal now is to not only win the SEC and go to the national championship, but to be the best team we’ve ever had here at this school.
“We take a lot of pride here, and that would mean a lot to us. But that’s the goal.”
And if Alabama happens to be in the way of reaching that goal -- again -- so be it.
“Of course, you never want to play a team you’ve already played,” Blackwell said. “It’s tough to beat the same team twice. Everybody knows that. But like I said, it doesn’t matter who we play. We’re going to go out there and play our game and will ourselves to victory.”
12:00 PM ET South Carolina 21 Clemson 12:00 PM ET 16 Georgia Tech 9 Georgia 12:00 PM ET Kentucky 22 Louisville 3:30 PM ET Florida 3 Florida State 3:30 PM ET 4 Mississippi State 19 Ole Miss 4:00 PM ET Tennessee Vanderbilt 7:45 PM ET 15 Auburn 1 Alabama