By RYNE BERTHELOT, Journal Sports
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Prior to kickoff Saturday morning, Harold Perkins wasn’t feeling too hot.
He vomited, coach Brian Kelly said, during LSU’s team meal and dealt with flu-like symptoms leading up to game time.
Those symptoms were forgotten when Perkins hit the field and saw red. Razorback red.
The true freshman phenom played feverishly, collecting a school single-game record four sacks among his eight tackles, forcing two fumbles and breaking up a pass in LSU’s 13-10 win at Arkansas Saturday.
The outcome, coupled with Alabama’s 30-24 victory at Ole Miss, clinched an SEC Championship game berth with the SEC West crown for the seventh-ranked Tigers (8-2, 6-1).
He terrorized the pair of quarterbacks Arkansas coach Sam Pittman tabbed to replace the injured KJ Jefferson, strip sacking both Malik Hornsby and Cade Fortin at pivotal moments in the game. One of those forced fumbles came with 1:19 left in the game, and effectively sealed the deal for LSU.
“He impacted the game, obviously, to the level where we win the game, too,” Kelly said about Perkins. “He’s a multi-dimensional player, he made a great play in pass coverage, getting under a throw late in the game. I don’t think there are enough superlatives to talk about this young man.”
His performance had Tiger fans ready to rename a major Baton Rouge thoroughfare “Harold” Perkins Road.
It was just enough to overcome an ineffective LSU attack.
LSU’s offense suffered seven sacks – five in the first half – and consequently the passing game suffered: Jayden Daniels completed just eight of 15 passes for 86 yards. He also threw his second interception of the season, his first since the loss to Tennessee on Oct. 8.
“Sacks are overrated when it comes to offensive line issues,” Kelly said. “Sometimes the quarterback causes sacks, sometimes it’s the back that’s not fitting. When you break it all down, you don’t want your quarterback sacked at all.
“I think they did a really good job of bringing pressures and I think we probably needed to do a better job overall in pass protection. I’m not giving the offensive line a pass here, but anytime you talk about sacks, you should look at everybody, including the coaching of it. We’re all responsible for that.”
Some of those sacks came from Daniels breaking late out of a collapsing pocket, where the Razorbacks (5-5, 2-4 SEC) were prepared with a zone coverage scheme to make sure he couldn’t get past the line of scrimmage. Daniels has taken 12 sacks over the last two games.
“There were multiple looks. He was hesitant,” Kelly said about Daniels. “He just didn’t have that aggressiveness that he needed, and he wasn’t sure in some things. So we have to do a better job coaching him, and he’s got to be more assertive.”
With the offense stalled, Perkins became the difference maker that the Tigers desperately needed to secure the Golden Boot rivalry trophy, and, with Alabama’s win, the SEC West.
LSU didn’t score its first touchdown until 5:25 was left in the third quarter, when Josh Williams punched it in from a yard out. Daniels hit Kayshon Boutte for a 26-yard completion the play before, and Williams cashed it in to give Tigers a 13-3 lead.
Williams was the most productive skill player on LSU’s offense, piling up 122 yards on 19 carries to go along with his touchdown.
Arkansas climbed back in it when Fortin, who completed eight-of-13 passes for 92 yards, hit Matt Landers in stride for a 40-yard score with 13:37 left to play. But the Razorbacks weren’t able to sustain a drive afterward, and Perkins’ strip sack was recovered by Mehki Wingo to end the suspense.
Coming off beating two Top 10-ranked foes, LSU’s win Saturday didn’t inspire confidence that the Tigers are ready to take on the likes of Georgia or Ohio State, but it was a shining example of a mantra that Kelly’s been preaching all season:
Just find a way to win.
“You still have to find ways to make plays and win these games at the end,” Kelly said. “Look, we’re far from a finished product. I don’t think anybody’s in there feeling like we’ve arrived. We’ve got a lot of work to do. During this journey, we’re still finding ways to win football games.”
Contact Ryne at firstname.lastname@example.org