BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
LSU head coach Brian Kelly had preached all week about how he expected a great effort from visiting Arkansas Saturday night at Death Valley in Baton Rouge.
That’s exactly what he got, but the 12th-ranked Tigers still snuck away with a 34-31 win over the Razorbacks when Damian Ramos connected on a 20-yard field goal with 8 seconds left.
It meant the trophy that goes to the winner in the Battle of the Boot would stay in Baton Rouge another year after residing in Fayetteville after the visiting Razorbacks downed the Tigers 16-13 in overtime in 2021’s game.
“Well, as expected this game – which is a rivalry game between Arkansas and LSU – has come down to a field goal the last three years, which I am probably telling you something that you already know,” Kelly said. “But now make it four.
“It’s just the nature of two teams that in proximety to one another are playing for a trophy. And look, it was a game where we told our team they were going to play their best and I thought they did play their best.
“Hats off to Sam Pittman and his team. They played outstanding football.”
Both teams wore No. 3 stickers on their helmets to honor former Razorback and current Tiger Greg Brooks, Jr., who had surgery to remove a brain tumor last week.
Pittman, whose team lost a 38-31 home game to BYU last week, had a chance to visit with Brooks at the hospital on Saturday morning.
“He’s in our thoughts and in our prayers,” Kelly said. “As you know we wore a number three on our helmet as Arkansas did. I want to thank Sam Pittman and the Arkansas administration for agreeing to wear the number 3 on their helmet. That shows the class they have in honoring Greg today.”
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson was 21 of 31 passing for 289 yards and three touchdowns, two of them to freshman tight end Luke Hasz, who had 6 catches for 115 yards.
That pair connected on a 59-yard effort and an ensuing two-point conversion to tie it 24-24 with 14:11 left in the game.
They hooked up for another score on a 11-yard toss that was followed by Cam Little’s extra point that deadlocked the contest 31-31 at the 5:06 mark.
LSU kept the ball from that point until Ramos’ field goal.
Kelly had no interest in allowing the pair to get a third one on a night when Arkansas was successful on 8 of its 13 third down conversions.
“KJ Jefferson was outstanding tonight,” Kelly said. “He kept plays alive and we couldn’t get him on the ground. We tried to get him on the ground, but were not allowed to get him on the ground.
“So it was just one of those games where we were the last ones to have the football and I wasn’t interested in letting Arkansas have a chance.
“Again a great football game and this are the games you have to find a way to win. We didn’t have our best performance early on, but I thought we really played well at the end of the (first) half and then in the the second half, particularly on offense”
Kelly was upset about a roughing the passer penalty called on LSU’s Harold Perkins that kept an Arkansas drive alive on which the Razorbacks tied it 31-31.
“However I answer this question I put myself in a difficult situation,” Kelly said. “All I can tell you is that there was no blow to head, no blow to the neck area. He (the ref) thought it was uncessary. I told him that ‘he’s 252 pounds, you try to tackle him.’’’
“We just couldn’t get him down on the ground. You can’t bring a rope out there and he (Perkins) was not trying to do anything else other than get him on the ground. So our supervisor of officials will send out in and we will get some kind of response.”
LSU had 506 yards total offense (320 passing, 189 rushing) to Arkansas’ 426 (289 through the air and 137 on the ground.)
It was far different from limited Mississippi State to xxx in a 41-14 road win the previous week.
“Defensively there is a lot that has to continue to get better and most of them are self-inflicted wounds that are going to have to get better and we go on the road these next two weeks” Kelly said.
“But all in all, happy with the victory and any time you are playing and SEC opponent and one that is highly motivated to come in here, we are very happy with the win.”
LSU (3-1, 2-0) rallied from a 13-3 deficit in the finals minute of the first half to cut it to 13-10 before a crowd of 99,648 fans.
That came on the first of two 75-yard drives for scores, the first one capped by a 49-yard touchdown toss to Brian Thomas (5 catches, 133 yards 2 TDs) with 30 seconds left before intermission.
LSU got the ball to start the second half and raced down field with Daniels hitting Thomas on another 49-yard touchdown pass to take its first lead art 17-13.
Cam Little’s 40-yard field goal, which came after holder Max Fletcher gained 8 yards on a fake field goal, cut it to 17-16 with 5:44 left in the third quarter.
Little was true on his three field goal attempts of 23, 23 and 40 and both his PAT attempts while Fletcher booted his only punt 51 yards.
LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels, who was 20 of 29 passing for 320 yards and four TDs, hit Malik Nabors (8 catches, 130 yards, 2 TDs) on an 8-yard scoring toss with 9:43 remaining to go up 24-16.
Jefferson and Hasz then sandwiched their two touchdown connections around Daniels’ 20-yard scoring strike to Nabors.
“He was out of rhythm and if watched his drop was off,” Kelly said. “He was rushing into his throws. We just kept reminding him about picking up his rhythm and being a lot quicker, which is how he played and has played. Once he was able to speed up, he was in a much better rhythm and it took off from there.”
LSU will visit Ole Miss next Saturday at 5 p.m.
Photo by Craven Whitlow