Known as the popular theme song of the wrestler “The Rock,” on Friday in Little Rock, that song would have been sounded a bit differently.
“Can you smell, what’s cooking, in “The Rock?”
And that answer would have been Hawg.
For the first time since 1996, the LSU Tigers defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks in Little Rock, or affectionately known as “The Rock” by Razorback fans. In three previous trips to Arkansas’ capitol city, the Tigers had been denied, most recently in a 21-20 loss on a Hail Mary in 2002 that propelled the Hawgs to the SEC title game.
Not since a 17-7 victory on a rainy afternoon in 1996 had LSU beaten Arkansas on its home turf.
On Friday, the Tigers not only beat the Hawgs, LSU turned the day-after-Thanksgiving classic in a nightmarish ending to the season for Houston Nutt and Co. Not only did Arkansas’ bid to try and become bowl eligible fall short by one victory, the Razorbacks watched a 17-game winning streak in “The Rock” come to an end. The Hawgs had never lost in Little Rock under Nutt, that is until Friday’s 43-14 thumping at the hands of the defending national champions.
Marcus Randall, who had been rotating at the quarterback position with redshirt freshman JaMarcus Russell most of the season, saved the best performance of his career for his final regular season game. Completing 10-of-14 passes, Randall passed for 173 yards and two touchdowns.
He also netted 132 yards rushing (albeit he grossed just 79) on 17 carries and scored twice in leading the Tigers to their ninth victory of the season.
"He has such control in the game," said LSU coach Nick Saban. "We didn't feel the time to change anything. It says a lot about him as a senior. He's been up and down, started some games, didn't start some games, but comes back and plays great the last one of the year."
The Tigers (9-2, 6-2 SEC) now await their fate for a postseason bowl. Really two bowls are in the mix to attract LSU, those being the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. The Tigers must wait until this weekend’s SEC title game between Tennessee and Auburn is completed.
"If Auburn wins next week (in the SEC championship game in Atlanta), we feel like we have a good chance to be picked by the Capital One Bowl, though we're not guaranteed," said LSU athletic director Skip Bertman. "They could still pick Georgia, or even Tennessee. Should somebody else be picked, I feel certain we will be picked by the Cotton Bowl."
The Razorbacks (5-6, 3-5) will miss the postseason for the first time under Nutt.
There is little doubt the Tigers put together its best performance of the season. Offensively, LSU rushed for 295 yards on 53 carries and Randall chipped in 173 through the air, did not commit a turnover and converted 7-of-12 third downs. On defense, the Tigers held the Hawgs to 247 yards of total offense, including just 92 on the ground.
"I felt like the way we played in the second half, and the way we played for 60 minutes in this game was probably our best performance of the year," Saban said.
For the first time since beating Mississippi State 51-0 on Sept. 29, the Tigers scored more than 27 points. Also, LSU managed to continue scoring disallowing any type of rally from the opposing team.
"This is the one that we thought we should have been playing this way most of the season," Marcus Spears said. "We weren't able to do so. But to come out in the last game and have a showing like that feels great.
"You know, it was tough earlier in the year, losing those two games. People started saying, 'I don't know about this year. I don't know what kind of year it will be.' But we always kept a confidence within ourselves."
In one of the few occasions this season, the Tigers won the opening coin toss and elected to receive.
LSU’s first possession lasted just four plays and a punt followed. However, the Tigers defense returned the favor when the Razorbacks’ initial possession was doomed from the start as Jones was flagged for intentional grounding on first down.
LSU regained possession on its own 34 and the Tigers wasted little time getting the offense going. Randall completed a 24-yard, first down pass to Dwayne Bowe at the Arkansas 42. Some hard running by Broussard and a pair of third down conversions led to the Tigers first touchdown of the game, a 20-yard strike from Randall to Joseph Addai with 7:38 left to play in the opening period.
"Right from the beginning coach called a bootleg, and I hit (wide receiver) Dwayne Bowe, and I knew from that point on I was in a good little rhythm," Randall said. "I was kind of disappointed not getting many snaps last week. But I felt comfortable and confident going into the game."
The Razorbacks showed no fear by LSU’s offensive surge and fired a shot back across the Tigers’ bow. DeCori Birmingham returned the kickoff 49 yards to the LSU 49. An option pitch from Jones to freshman fullback Peyton Hillis o the Hawgs first offensive play of the game resulted in a 41 gain to the Tigers’ eight. On the next play, Arkansas tied the game when Jones hit Hillis on an 8-yard scoring toss. Just 38 seconds after LSU scored the game’s first touchdown, the score was tied 7-7.
The first quarter fireworks continued on LSU’s next possession. Marching 80 yards in 12 plays, the Tigers converted a third and 13 and had a touchdown pass skip off the hands of Bowe en route to a 46-yard, Chris Jackson field goal, one of three he would convert on the day.
Nutt is known as the gambling type of coach and he showed why on the Hawgs next drive. The Razorbacks managed just six yards on five plays and faced a punting situation on their own 29. With a gunner left uncovered to the right side, punter Jeremy Davis heaved a pass toward the Arkansas receiver. However, a gamble on LSU’s part paid off. Saban said in the postgame the Tigers were trying to bait the Hawgs into faking that by leaving the man wide open.
The pass skipped off the hands of the Razorback wideout. Despite some contact by Daniels, no flags were thrown, much to the dismay of Nutt and the red and white clad patrons of Ware Memorial Stadium.
The Tigers made the failed gamble hurt ever worse when on the very next play. Randall hit Addai streaking down the left sideline for a 29-yard touchdown putting LSU in the lead 17-7.
Just as it seemed the Tigers had seized the momentum it would need to runaway with the game, special teams misfortune struck LSU in the worst way.
After holding Arkansas on its next possession, the Tigers forced another punting situation at the Hawgs’ 40. Davis’ punt, a wobbly, end-over-end kick bounded through the air barely covering 30 yards. As the ball descended, it struck LSU gunner Chevis Jackson on the back of the leg and bounced away from Tiger return man Skyler Green.
Arkansas recovered at the LSU 15 and scored two plays later on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Steve Harris.
For the Razorbacks, it was just the break they needed to close the gap to 17-14. However, for Nutt and Co., it would be as close as they would come this day.
Jackson hit the second of his trio of field goals on the Tigers’ next possession – this one being a career long of 53 yards, also the third longest in school history. LSU faced a fourth and 20 at the Arkansas 36. First electing to punt, the Tigers chatted about the possibility of Jackson attempting the long field goal with a stiff wind at his back.
The sophomore kicker, who nailed a 51-yarder a week earlier versus Ole Miss, knocked the 53-yard offering through the uprights for a 20-14 advantage.
The LSU defense held again after Arkansas drove to the Tigers’ 36. The Razorback punt bounded into the end zone for a touchback with less than four minutes left before the half.
The Tigers took control of the ball at their own 20 and assembled their most dominating drive of the season. An illegal block pushed LSU back to its own 10, but the Tigers ground assault quickly made up the lost yardage and then some.
Broussard went for five yards on first down followed by a 15-yard jaunt from Randall. On third and one, Broussard plowed ahead for the first down. Addai then checked into the game and ripped off runs of six, eight, 15, five and seven yards. Once reaching the Hawgs 36, the Tigers went to the air with Randall hitting Craig “Buster” Davis on three consecutive pass plays of seven, five and 23 yards to the Arkansas one. Randall kept it himself scoring with just 20 seconds left in the first half. The touchdown gave LSU a 27-14 lead and proved to be the proverbial back breaker for the Hawgs.
As has been the case over the last two games, the second half has belonged to the LSU defense.
The Tiger stoppers dominated the second half versus Alabama and Ole Miss and did the same against the Razorbacks, making a statement on the Hawgs initial possession of the third quarter.
Arkansas managed one first down out to their own 40, but on third and seven, Jones threw the first of two interceptions, both of which were snared by LSU free safety LaRon Landry.
Landry’s first interception led to another Tiger touchdown, another scoring run by Randall, this time covering seven yards. At the 9:48 mark of the third quarter, what looked like it was going to be a classic nail biter was turning into a rout.
Landry’s next interception came on the Hawgs next possession, but the turnover resulted in no points.
The Tigers would not score again until their opening possession of the fourth quarter. A 15-play, 74-yard drive stalled at the Arkansas nine forcing Jackson’s third boot of the afternoon, this one measuring 27 yards.
The final score of the game came with just 1:37 left in the game, a 9-yard scamper by Shyrone Carey. Carey’s TD run came on the heels three impressive runs by beleaguered running back Justin Vincent, who Tiger fans were happy to see collect 60 rushing yards on 10 trips Friday.
Broussard led all rushers with 81 yards on 16 totes. Randall was right behind him with 79 yards on 17 carries. Randall actually gained 132 yards on the ground rushing, but lost 52 of those on sacks.
Davis was Randall’s favorite target on this day hauling in five receptions for 70 yards. Addai caught just two passes, but both went for touchdowns covering 49 yards.
Marcus Spears led all Tiger tacklers with nine stops, including two sacks and a pair of tackles for loss. Landry had two interceptions of Jones while Ronnie Prude ended the game with an interception of Arkansas reserve quarterback Robert Johnson.