The annual Battle for the Boot convenes on Saturday when the Arkansas Razorbacks travel to Baton Rouge to face the LSU Tigers in an SEC West contest. For 15 years, this meeting was one of college football’s best second-tier rivalry games in a back-and-forth affair that was more often a thriller than a walkaway win for the victor. But the Tigers hold a three-game winning streak against the Razorbacks, and Arkansas will seek to do the impossible: Take down the No. 1-ranked team in the nation.
If LSU fans have a wedding to attend this weekend, they might not be that upset. Arkansas (2-8, 0-6 SEC) heads into the game on a six-game losing streak and without the services of their head coach Chad Morris. Morris was given a pink slip after a disastrous 45-19 home loss to Western Kentucky in Week 11. Tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. will be serving in his first game as interim head coach with the benefit of a bye week to prepare for the Tigers.
For LSU, everything on the surface is as right as rain. The Tigers (10-0, 6-0) are undefeated with the nation’s second-rated offense, they kicked away an eight-game losing streak to bitter rival Alabama (46-41) in Bryant Denny, and they are one win away from completely sewing up an SEC West title. Adding to the happy days, senior quarterback Joe Burrow is on track to win the Heisman Trophy. Seemingly only three things can bring down the proverbial house: A loss to Arkansas or Texas A&M in the next two weeks and an injury to Burrow.
Arkansas at LSU
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 23 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: LSU -43.5
When Arkansas Has the Ball
Considering all the changes that are ongoing, who knows what to expect when the Hogs have the ball? With Lunney calling the shots, the offense may have a stripped-down approach, but that could be what plays well for the guys on the roster. Heading into the WKU game, the coaching staff made a change in the pocket to freshmen K.J. Jefferson and John Stephen Jones away from senior Ben Hicks and junior Nick Starkel. Jones got the start against the Hilltoppers but appeared overwhelmed, completing just 3-of-10 passes for 27 yards and throwing a pick. Jefferson had better success, marginally, going 6-of-15 for 60 yards and also throwing an interception. The staff is expected to give Jefferson the starting nod on Saturday.
The one consistent producer for the Razorbacks this season has been junior tailback Rakeem Boyd. Boyd has managed to rise above the noise and enters Saturday's game as the third-leading rusher in the SEC (1,005 yards) with eight touchdowns on the ground and a robust 6.7 yard per carry average. Boyd has put together fantastic back-to-back game, rushing for 114 with a score off 11 totes against Mississippi State and 185 yards on eight carries with two scores versus WKU. Don’t be surprised to see a heavy dose of the run game against LSU.
The championship-caliber offense LSU has is covering up some deficiencies for its defense. For most of the season, LSU's pass defense has been the weak link. Despite having yet another star in the secondary, safety Grant Delpit, the unit allows 237.0 yards per game, which ranks 79th out of 130 FBS teams. In a 58-37 victory over Ole Miss last week, the Rebels exploited both the pass and the rushing fronts for the Tigers, tossing for 212 while rushing for 402. Arkansas’ best performances this season came when they passed for 356 yards against San Jose State and ran for 253 yards against Western Kentucky. With the youth movement going on in Fayetteville, it seems the Hogs would have to rack up close to the equivalent to keep up with the Tigers offense, and that does not seem likely.
When LSU Has the Ball
The 2019 season has been the Joe Burrow show for LSU, and nothing will change against the Hogs. Burrow is the nation’s second-leading passer with 3,687 yards and has added 38 touchdowns along the way. Beyond all the prolific numbers, Burrow has been throwing darts to his talented receiving corps at a 78.6 percent completion rate. SJSU quarterback Josh Love threw for 402 against Arkansas, don’t be surprised to see a similar stat line from Burrow before being pulled some time in the second half.
If trying to stop Burrow was not enough, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is entering his collegiate prime. Over his last three games — all against SEC competition — he is averaging 137.0 yards per game with five total touchdowns scored. The junior tailback has worked his way up the SEC rankings and enters the game fifth in rushing yards (958) and second in touchdowns (11). Those numbers should continue to climb against one of the worst rushing defenses in the nation. The Hogs are 123rd in FBS at 225.4 rushing yards per game allowed.
It is a college football rarity to have two 1,000-yard receivers on the same squad, but LSU has accomplished the feat. Ja’Marr Chase leads the conference in yards (1,116) and touchdowns (13) on just 57 receptions, but Justin Jefferson is not far behind. He is tied for the conference lead in receptions (71), ranked third in yards (1,010), and tied for second in receiving scores (11).
The Hogs last won a conference football game in October 2017, notching a 38-37 win over Ole Miss in Oxford. Last season, the Hogs were tough against the Tigers at home before falling 24-17, but this LSU offense is much different. Arkansas has lost 16 consecutive conference games, and you can make it 17 straight.
Prediction: LSU 51, Arkansas 21
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.