Due to conference realignment, Arkansas and LSU won’t meet on Black Friday anymore, but the rivalry between these two schools still exists with the annual Battle for the Boot. And this year’s meeting still has plenty of intrigue, as the Razorbacks are searching for their first SEC win under coach Bret Bielema, while LSU is looking to bounce back after a tough loss against Alabama in overtime last Saturday.
The series between Arkansas and LSU has produced several close games in recent memory. The Razorbacks have lost four out of the last five meetings to the Tigers, but last year’s matchup was only a four-point win for LSU. And very little has separated these two programs in their annual matchup, as eight out of the last nine games were decided by a touchdown or less. Most of Arkansas’ home matchups against LSU in recent years have been played in Little Rock, but this season’s game takes place in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks have not defeated the Tigers in Fayetteville since 1992 and trail in the overall series 36-20-2.
LSU at Arkansas
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Arkansas -2
Arkansas’ Key to Victory: Stop the Run
The key to beating LSU is to win the battle at the line of scrimmage. Arkansas is allowing 168 rushing yards per game but has held opponents to just three rushing scores in five home contests. The Razorbacks have allowed three consecutive opponents to rush for at least 128 yards, with Georgia torching Arkansas for 207 yards on 39 attempts. LSU leads the SEC in rushing attempts (494) and averages 4.5 yards per attempt. The Tigers feature four players with at least 260 rushing yards, but true freshman Leonard Fournette is the team’s best option (736 yards). Fournette will challenge a good Arkansas defensive front, and stopping the true freshman will play a huge role in how this game is decided. Quarterback Anthony Jennings has yet to complete more than 50 percent of his throws in a game against Power 5 opponents and has completed only eight passes in back-to-back games. Arkansas needs to load the box and stop Fournette, which will force Jennings to take to the air to win this matchup.
LSU’s Key to Victory: Get Arkansas into Third-and-Long Situations
It may sound like a broken record in the keys to victory for both teams, but Arkansas and LSU are very similar in terms of style of play on offense. The Razorbacks boast a massive offensive line and average 248.2 yards per game on the ground. Junior Jonathan Williams leads the team with 877 yards, but sophomore Alex Collins isn’t far behind with 840 yards. Both players have 10 rushing touchdowns. Considering Arkansas has made strides on defense this year and owns one of the SEC’s best rushing attacks, why hasn’t this team won a game in conference play? The answer isn’t as simple as the passing attack, but the Razorbacks need more through the air. Quarterback Brandon Allen has been a better player at home (61% completion percentage to 54% on road) and has struggled on third downs with more than seven yards to go (17 of 38 for 270 yards and three picks). Arkansas wants to establish its rushing attack, but it also needs Allen to hit a few throws to keep the defense off balance. LSU’s defense has played better in recent weeks, and stopping the Razorbacks’ rushing attack and forcing Allen into obvious passing situations would give Les Miles’ team an edge on the scoreboard.
Arkansas has been on the doorstep of a couple of conference wins this year. The Razorbacks lost in overtime to Texas A&M, lost by a point to Alabama and was defeated by a touchdown at Mississippi State – the No. 1 team in the playoff rankings. LSU has rebounded from a slow start in SEC play, but the Tigers are coming off an emotional, hard-hitting game against Alabama. Everything points to an Arkansas victory. Will the Tigers win another crazy, last-minute affair under Les Miles? Nothing in this game would be a surprise, but the guess here is the Razorbacks break through and win their first SEC game under Bielema.