As a newcomer to the Southeastern Conference, former Notre Dame and current LSU head coach Brian Kelly is not about to apologize for any wins in his new league.
That’s especially a road one, which the No. 7 Tigers picked up over Arkansas 13-10 Saturday before 72,400 fans at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The victory came on the heels of LSU’ 32-31 overtime home win over Alabama last week and Arkansas’ 21-19 loss to visiting Liberty.
“It is hard to win in the SEC, that was evident today,” Kelly said. “Look, I could go through a laundry list of things that we have to do better, but our guys wanted to win, they were prepared to win and they were prepared to play a team that was coming off a disappointing loss. We knew that were going to play hard today and they did.
“It is a well-coached football team. (Arkansas head) Coach (Sam) Pittman does a great job. I thought (Arkansas defensive coordinator) Barry Odom called a great game defensively. Their team was prepared and they were a great challenge for us today.
“But we found a way to win on the road and that is really what this is about when you play in a league like this, particularly the SEC West. Just find a way to win and that’s what we did. I am proud of our guys for having the mental toughness to battle and find a way to win a football game when we were challenged the way we were today.”
LSU (7-2, 6-1) maintained at least a a share of the SEC Western Division lead with the win and is in the drivers seat to land in the SEC Championship game.
Arkansa dropped to 5-5 overall, 2-4 in SEC action.
“That’s kind of my takeaway,” Kelly said. “I am not sitting here disappointed. I thought we won the football game in a a very difficult environment…and our guys knew that. We are in a different realm now. We are being hunted and we are going to get everybody’s best shot.”
LSU true freshman linebacker Harold Perkins had 8 tackles with four sacks and two forced fumbles despite battling the flu.
“He was all over the field and impacted the game to the level that we win the game because of his final play, too,” Kelly said. “He is a multi-dimensional player. He makes a great play in pass coverage, getting under a throw late in the game.
“There are just not enough superlatives to talk about this young man as a true freshman coming into his own. As you might imagine, he was awarded the game ball.”
LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels praised Perkins as well.
“That kid is very good at football,” Daniels said. “I am happy he is on our team.”
Kelly referenced NBA great Michael Jordan, but Perkins was clueless.
“He (Perkins) threw up before our team meal,” Kelly said, “and I said ‘hey, MJ had his greatest game after throwing up. He said ‘who is MJ? I was like, ‘man, I am getting so old.’”
Daniels was sacked seven times by Arkansas, who also had another stop for lost yardage.
“I feel like their defense adjusted to what we were doing,” Daniels said. “We know we got their best, especially after the loss last week and we came out with a big win.
“They played very hard, making plays and making things difficult for our O-line and myself, too. They did a good job.”
Odom brought pressure that threw Daniels (8 of 15 passing for 86 yards and 19 rushes for 10 yards) off his game as he had two fumbles and an interception on Saturday.
“Lot of multiple looks,” Kelly said. “He (Daniels) was hesitant and he wasn’t sure of some things. We have got to do a better job coaching him and he has got to be more assertive.
“They did a lot of things defensively that I thought were really good…They played really well.”
Injured Arkansas starting quarterback KJ Jefferson did not play so Malik Hornsby was under center to open the game.
Hornsby struggled, going 4 of 9 passing for 15 yards and rushing 18 times for 37 yards.
“We still had to prepare for the offensive structure of a quarterback that could run it and throw it so it didn’t really effect it that much,” Kelly said. “We had to kind of prepared as if he was playing and if the back up played we would be ready.”
Cade Fortin entered the game in the third quarter for Arkansas and finished 8 of 13 passing for 92 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown strike to Matt Landers.
“I thought the walk on – is it Fortin? I thought he did really well coming in,” Kelly said. “He threw a great ball down the sideline and I thought he gave them some great energy and moved the football.
“It forced us to do some things that maybe we didn’t practice on as much as some of the other things. So he was good and catalyst for for them.”
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Former Arkansas defensive backs Greg Brooks, Jr. and Joe Foucha transferred to LSU before this season.
They both had four tackles on Saturday.
“I would say first and foremost that they have fit in really well in terms of the culture,” Kelly said. “They were in a really good program here at Arkansas, where they do the right things.
“They came in and wear good models for doing things the right way so they really helped me early on in making sure we had guys doing things the right way. Joe and Greg were outstanding in that respect.
“As football players, they are good players and they contributed, but I would say their contributions were as important off the field as they were on the field.”
Photo by John D. James