Arkansas won for more than 58 minutes of play Saturday night in Death Valley.
Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, the 12th-ranked LSU Tigers won a 90-second stretch that bookended halftime.
Quarterback Jayden Daniels threw 49-yard touchdown passes to Brian Thomas in the minute before and after halftime, and Damian Ramos kicked a 20-yard field goal with 5 seconds remaining to give LSU a 34-31 victory in front of 99,648 at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.
"I’m proud of our kids," Arkansas coach Sam Pittman told Razorback Sports Network after the game. "They played their ass off, they played hard, but we didn’t play smart enough to win. We played hard enough, we just didn’t play smart enough."
The Tigers (3-1, 2-0 SEC) took possession with 5:06 remaining and essentially kept the ball for the rest of the game. The Razorbacks burned their final timeout with 14:52 to play and could not stop the clock as LSU churned toward the goal line in the waning minutes.
"It's just one of those games where we were the last one to have the football," LSU coach Brian Kelly said. "I wasn't interested in letting Arkansas have another chance.
"It was a great football game. These are the games where 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 in the second half, in particular on offense."
Arkansas (2-2, 0-1) lost a one-score game for the second week in a row. The Razorbacks blew leads of 14 and 10 points in a 38-31 loss to BYU last Saturday.
The trip to LSU was Arkansas’ first of four consecutive SEC games away from home.
“I was proud of the effort,” Pittman said, “but we came here to win. We felt like we could win. We felt like we had a team that could win — and we did — but we just didn’t get it done. But I was proud of the way the kids played, the effort they played with. We've just got to continue to play smarter."
Daniels completed 3 of 4 passes on the Tigers’ final drive for 42 yards. He finished 20 of 29 for 320 yards and 4 touchdowns, and overcame a first-half interception by former LSU cornerback Dwight McGlothern.
The Tigers scored on their final six possessions as Arkansas struggled to get any pressure on Daniels.
"We just couldn’t stop them in the second half," Pittman said. "We tried a lot of different things — tried man, tried zone."
Daniels’ first touchdown pass with 30 seconds remaining in the second quarter pulled LSU within 13-10 at halftime. His second scoring strike one minute into the third quarter gave the Tigers a 17-13 lead and they never trailed again.
"We played a really good first half," Pittman said. "The score right before the half hurt to get them back to three, but we rallied back.
"We’d get down, go tie it. Get down, go tie it. We gave them the ball with five minutes and I didn’t have any timeouts left, so I couldn’t really help our team out….I wasn’t able to save any time there at the end of the game."
LSU held Arkansas to a 40-yard field goal by Cam Little on the Razorbacks’ first drive of the second half. It followed a successful fake field goal when punter Max Fletcher, the holder, ran 8 yards to the LSU 11 on fourth-and-2.
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson ran for two yards on first down, but he was sacked on second and third down to force the Razorbacks to settle for Little’s third field goal that cut LSU’s lead to 17-16.
That capped a 15-play, 53-yard drive that lasted 8 minutes, 16 seconds. Jefferson took two timeouts on the drive.
“We couldn’t get the play in on time and I had to burn timeouts on that situation," Pittman said, "and I was empty-handed at the end.”
Both teams scored on every possession of a quick-moving second half, except for Arkansas after it gained possession with time for one play.
Following Little’s field goal, the Tigers marched back down the field to take a 24-16 lead on Daniels’ 8-yard touchdown pass to Malik Nabers with 1:40 remaining in the third quarter.
Nabers, the SEC's leading receiver, had 8 catches for 130 yards, and Thomas added 5 catches for 133 yards. Both players scored twice.
Arkansas answered Nabers' first score with a 59-yard touchdown pass from Jefferson to freshman tight end Luke Hasz early in the fourth quarter, and Hasz tied the game 24-24 with a 2-point catch.
The Razorbacks committed three penalties on the drive, all false starts. Following a 3-yard run by Jefferson to convert a third down, tight end Nathan Bax took off early twice to force Arkansas into first-and-20.
Jefferson ran 14 yards on second down. On third-and-6 he rolled right to extend the play, then found Hasz wide open down the LSU sideline. Cornerback Zy Alexander lost sight of Hasz as he looked toward Jefferson on the scramble.
Left guard Brady Latham jumped before the Razorbacks could try their 2-point play. That backed up the ball to the 8, but Jefferson still found Hasz over the middle to tie the game.
Following a breakout performance the week before against BYU, Hasz had a career-best game with 6 receptions for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns. His 11-yard score with 5:06 remaining helped Arkansas tie the game 31-31.
That drive answered a 20-yard touchdown by Nabers. It included a 34-yard pass from Jefferson to Hasz to the LSU 14, plus two big penalties — a hold against Arkansas center Beaux Limmer that wiped out a 37-yard touchdown pass from Jefferson to Andrew Armstrong the play before Hasz’s long catch, and a roughing the passer penalty against LSU linebacker Harold Perkins to extend the drive after Jefferson threw incomplete on third-and-18 from the 22.
Hasz caught his second touchdown on the play following Perkins' penalty.
"Luke Hasz and KJ made some really good plays," Pittman said.
Jefferson completed 21 of 31 passes for 289 yards and 3 touchdowns. He tied former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones’ school record for career touchdown responsibility with 77.
Jefferson was intercepted twice, including on a Hail Mary attempt as time expired. He also ran 16 times for 48 yards.
"KJ Jefferson was outstanding tonight," Kelly said. "He kept plays alive. We couldn't get him on the ground."
Pittman said the Razorbacks' 11 penalties for 69 yards — compared to LSU's 5 for 51 — and minus-1 turnover margin were a difference in the game.
"Obviously we had way too many penalties again," Pittman said. "We tried to simulate [crowd noise] in practice. Obviously it didn’t work."
The Razorbacks ran 37 times for 137 yards while playing their third consecutive game without All-SEC running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders. Rashod Dubinion led Arkansas with 15 carries for 78 yards.
LSU rushed 29 times for 189 yards, led by Logan Diggs’ 14 carries for 97 yards. Daniels had 36 rushing yards in a battle of the SEC’s best dual-threat quarterbacks.
Arkansas moved the ball well early, but stalled in the red zone and had to settle for a pair of 23-yard field goals by Little in the first and second quarters to go ahead 6-0. Little made three field goals for the second time at Tiger Stadium, where he kicked the game winner to beat LSU in overtime in 2021.
The Tigers pulled within 6-3 on Ramos’ 24-yard field goal with 4:02 left before halftime, but the Razorbacks took a 13-3 lead when Jefferson hit Tyrone Broden for a 19-yard touchdown with 48 seconds left in the half.
Daniels hit Thomas for 49 yards three plays later to swing momentum.
LSU won the Golden Boot trophy for the seventh time in eight meetings against the Razorbacks. The last four matchups have been decided by a field goal.
"It's just the nature of two teams playing in proximity for a rivalry trophy," Kelly said. "[Arkansas is] a team that we told our team they were going to play their very best, and they played their very best. Hats off to Sam Pittman and his team. They played outstanding football."
Arkansas is scheduled to continue its month-long road swing with a neutral-site game against Texas A&M next Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Razorbacks follow with trips to No. 15 Ole Miss and No. 13 Alabama.
Texas A&M (3-1) opened SEC play with a 27-10 home victory over Auburn on Saturday.