BATON ROUGE, La. — Tyrann Mathieu answered the call for a game-turning play when LSU needed one most, and the top-ranked Tigers piled on from there.
Mathieu returned a punt 92 yards for a tying score and the Tigers punished No. 3 Arkansas with 286 yards rushing, wiping out a 14-point deficit with a 41-17 win Friday that secured a spot in the SEC Championship 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."
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 plays No. 13 Georgia next weekend in Atlanta.
A win over the Bulldogs assures the Tigers their third trip to the BCS title game in nine seasons.
"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."
Arkansas (10-2, 6-2) led 14-7 when Mathieu fielded Dylan Breeding's kick at his 8, started left, made a cut up field, then angled left into the clear.
"It made the statement that that lead was not going to stand up," LSU coach Les Miles said. "Our defense was going to continue to play well and our offense was coming."
Mathieu, a cornerback, forced two fumbles with strips, one of which he recovered. He stripped running back Dennis Johnson in LSU territory late in the first half to set up a touchdown drive that put the Tigers ahead to stay.
Arkansas had taken a 14-0 lead on Tyler Wilson's 13-yard scoring pass to Jarius Wright and linebacker Alonzo Highsmith's 47-yard fumble return. The largest deficit LSU had faced before Friday was 13-9 against Oregon in the season opener.
"This football team down 14 … did not flinch," Miles said. "There was never a question in anyone's minds on that sideline we were going to respond."
LSU's defense sacked Wilson five times (twice by defensive end Barkevious Mingo) and picked him off once on cornerback Morris Claiborne's team-leading fifth interception.
Two plays after the pick, Jefferson ran 48 yards on a quarterback draw to make it 38-17.
Hilliard finished with a career-high 102 yards rushing on 19 carries.
"At halftime our offensive line came in and told us that, 'Man, we were wearing them down, and in the second half I think we can beat them up,' " Hilliard said. "We came out in the second half and pounded the football right at them. I felt it out there."