LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Bobby Petrino saved his toughest call for Arkansas’ biggest game of the season.
Petrino went for it on fourth-and-3 in the fourth quarter on Saturday and Ryan Mallett made the move pay off with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Joe Adams. The play paved the way for the No. 12 Razorbacks’ 31-23 win over No. 6 LSU, and it kept alive Arkansas’ chances for the school’s first BCS bowl bid.
“We didn’t come to paint,” Petrino said. “We came to win the game.”
The Razorbacks (10-2, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) led 21-20 early in the fourth quarter when their drive appeared to stall at the LSU 39. After a timeout, Adams lined up in the left slot and used a stop-and-go move to get behind Tigers’ defender Tyrann Mathieu.
Mallett, who threw for 320 yards and three touchdowns, lofted the ball perfectly over Mathieu to Adams for the touchdown. The play gave the Razorbacks a 28-20 lead, one they held onto thanks to a dominant running game that featured 153 yards rushing by Knile Davis against the SEC’s top defense.
“It’s a play we’ve been working on since LSU last year,” Mallett said. “I could have checked out of that play, but it was man coverage and Joe made a great play to make his man miss.”
Arkansas finishes second in the SEC West and could be on its way to the Sugar Bowl. The Razorbacks likely still need Auburn to win the SEC championship next week against South Carolina, but losses by Alabama and Boise State on Friday helped its case.
Mallett finished 13 of 23 passing and had touchdown passes of 85 and 80 yards in the first half. He broke the school record for career touchdown passes with an 85-yard bullet to Cobi Hamilton in the second quarter, topping Clint Stoerner’s 57. Mallett now has 60 touchdown passes in two seasons at Arkansas, which has won six straight after a loss at No. 2 Auburn on Oct. 16.
The 80-yard touchdown pass was also to Hamilton, and it came on the final play of the first half. It was the first play of a drive that Arkansas started after an LSU punt with 6 seconds remaining before halftime, and it gave the Razorbacks a 21-14 lead.
“I would have liked to have had the (field goal) before the half, and who would have thought they would hit the long ball like they did for the score,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “Certainly not I.”
The Tigers (10-2, 6-2) never led against the Razorbacks and were outgained 464-294. Jordan Jefferson passed for 184 yards and ran for 34 yards, but LSU’s inconsistent season on offense continued.
Josh Jasper hit a pair of third-quarter field goals to cut Arkansas’ lead to 21-20 for LSU, which appears to have squandered its BCS chances with the loss.
The second of the two field goals came after the Tigers started a drive at the Arkansas 9 following a fumble by Razorbacks punter Dylan Breeding.
After Adams’ touchdown, the Razorbacks added to their lead by controlling the game on the ground. Zach Hocker’s 19-yard field goal put Arkansas up 31-20 in the fourth quarter, and it capped a 13-play drive that featured 10 runs for 74 yards.
LSU pulled within 31-23 on Jasper’s 36-yard field goal with 1 minute, 58 seconds remaining, and the Tigers got the ball back with less than a minute remaining. However, Arkansas’ Andru Stewart sacked Jefferson on second down at the LSU 1 and forced a fumble, which Jerry Franklin recovered for the Razorbacks to secure the victory.
“I’m not happy,” Miles said. “It’s not how it was supposed to end for us.”