BATON ROUGE, La. — Tyrann Mathieu answered the call for a game-turning play when Louisiana State University needed one most, and the top-ranked Tigers piled on from there.
Mathieu returned a punt 92 yards for a game-tying score and the Tigers punished third-ranked Arkansas with 286 yards rushing, wiping out a 14-point deficit with a 41-17 win Friday that secured a spot in the Southeastern Conference title game.
“I could hear my teammates in my ear saying, ‘Man, we need you to go make a play,’ ” Mathieu said. “I was able to help the momentum really go in our favor.
“You have no idea how bad I just wanted to go out there and make a big play for our team. I was fortunate enough to be able to do that.”
Kenny Hilliard, Spencer Ware and Jordan Jefferson all scored on the ground for LSU (12-0, 8-0 SEC), which is 12-0 for the first time and will play No. 13 Georgia next weekend in Atlanta.
A win over the Bulldogs would assure the Tigers their third trip to the BCS title game in nine seasons.
The rivalry game with Arkansas (10-2, 6-2) was billed as the biggest in Tiger Stadium since 1959, the last time two teams ranked in the top three clashed in Death Valley. Billy Cannon lifted No. 1 LSU to a 7-3 win over No. 3 Mississippi in that game with an 89-yard punt return for a score, so it seemed fitting that the Tigers would get a similar score against the Razorbacks.
“That was a huge turning point in the game,” Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. “We were trying to get the ball punted to the sideline, but he miss-hit it a bit and punted it to the middle. … (Mathieu) made a great cut and made us miss at the point of attack. He made a great play.”
Arkansas took a surprising 14-0 lead, but LSU stormed back and outscored the Razorbacks 41-3 from there.
“This football team down 14 points did not flinch,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “There was never a question in anyone’s minds on that sideline we were going to respond.”