DJ Chark, LSU continue to overcome early setbacks in 33-10 defeat of Arkansas
A muffed punt in the opening minutes provided a moment of concern that Saturday’s rare 11 a.m. kickoff might provide some difficulties for D.J. Chark and 16-point favorite LSU (7-3).
But the senior wide receiver bounced back from the early miscue, just as he had during the team’s most recent home game, and played a leading role in the Tigers’ eventual 33-10 dismissal of Arkansas.
“You’re gonna make mistakes,” he said. “But I’m blessed to be able to get another opportunity after I might mess up. No one wants to mess up. But if you do, you have to shake it off and worry about it after the game … I just came in after the mistake early on and was able to talk to the special teams guys and just find ways to not let that happen again, try not to force things and take what they gave us. And I’m just happy to just go back out on offense and contribute.”
By the end of the first quarter, Chark had hauled in a 45-yard touchdown pass from Danny Etling for the morning’s first score.
The duo added a beautiful 68-yard connection — one of their best of the season and a highlight of a 26-point second half — on the first play of the fourth quarter to essentially, finally put the Razorbacks away.
“I’m just blessed to be put in those opportunities,” Chark said. “We never really think about the statistics. We just play to each other’s strengths. And I feel like the coaches see (the long ball) as one of my strengths, and we were able to execute it.”
And Chark’s 130 yards on four receptions led Etling’s six different receivers and accounted for 59.9 percent of the quarterback’s passing yardage for the day.
“He’s mature,” coach Ed Orgeron said. “He’s mature, and he sticks with it. He believes in himself, and he has confidence.”
The Alexandria Senior High product easily leads all LSU receivers this season with 29 receptions for 718 yards and two scores.
No other player has more than 18 catches, 241 yards or three touchdowns.
“I’m so glad, man,” Orgeron said. “Last year, he thought about going out. I’m so glad that he stayed. And you’ve gotta give credit to (wide receivers coach) Mickey Joseph. He does a tremendous job of coaching ’em. Jerry Sullivan is helping us, helping coach Mickey. I think his route-running has been a lot better. His footwork has been a lot better.”
And his resilience, praised consistently by the other Tigers, epitomizes a bigger-picture story line for the team as a whole during an eventful first full season under Orgeron.
“If we make a mistake, we brush it off and go on to the next one,” said sophomore wide receiver Stephen Sullivan. “We don’t get too rowdy, or we don’t get too hype when we play. We try to stay normal.”
Some fans called loudly for the coach’s job just five weeks into the season after disappointing losses to Mississippi State and Troy in a three-week span.
Instead, LSU righted the ship and rattled off consecutive conference defeats of Florida, Auburn and Ole Miss.
“It’s all about the leaders,” sophomore linebacker Devin White said. “It’s all about the leaders. Everybody comes to practice prepared and ready to work, and, you know, we’re dialed in. And it just shows out there on the field. When our backs are against the wall, we get together, and we just press on and keep moving forward.”
The Tigers fell to Alabama to open November, but competing well with the powerhouse Crimson Tide and won nearly every statistical category.
And then came a 33-10 roll past the Razorbacks — the second straight season in which Orgeron and company have responded in such handy fashion.
“It’s a rivalry game, and I think that it’s more of a rivalry game for them,” the coach said. “They wanna beat LSU. And you come to LSU… so I think they play over their head when they play at LSU, and they’re a physical game. I think that’s what it is. Obviously, after Alabama week, and we all know that, as much as we want, that’s a very important game to us, and we have to bounce back and not have a hangover like we did in the past couple of years. And we did.
“We knew it was gonna be a struggle, especially in the first quarter. I felt like, ‘OK, these guys came to play,’ but I always thought that we were gonna win the game.”
LSU heads next to a struggling Tennessee team that has dropped four of its past five before closing the regular season at home against an up-and-down Texas A&M that has lost three of its past four.
“Obviously we know what we’d like to end up with,” Orgeron said. “But we know that we can’t look at that. We can’t look forward. We know, we’ve learned now that that’s overlooking the opponent, and we can’t do that. So we’re still keeping it one at a time, on to Tennessee.
“But obviously this team would like to wind up with a good winning record, a good bowl win. But in order for us to do that, we’ve gotta go play well on the road at Tennessee, and that’s all we’re concerned about.”
Jerit Roser can be reached at Jerit@DatBoot.com.