If you like roller coasters, boy howdy do we have a game for you between Arkansas and LSU in Baton Rouge on Saturday. These two SEC West rivals come into this showdown having already experienced deep valley lows and dizzying highs this season.
Arkansas (6-3, 2-3 SEC) started out 4-0, which included wins over Texas and Texas A&M and had everyone thinking they were back to the Hog ways of old back in the Lou Holtz era. But then came a three-game losing streak which left them at rock bottom in the West at 1-3. Last week's 31-28 win against Mississippi State came with the help of three missed field goals by the Bulldogs.
Meanwhile, the up-and-down Tigers (4-5, 2-4) played their best game of the year and nearly pulled off a real shocker before losing 20-14 at No. 2 Alabama. Ed Orgeron made it quite clear from the get-go this was going to be a throw-everything-including-the-kitchen-sink-at-them mentality. And it worked too, both on offense and defense, as the Tigers kept knocking on the door of a huge upset all the way till the final minute.
No. 25 Arkansas at LSU
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 13 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Arkansas -2.5
When Arkansas Has the Ball
Six rushing yards. Six. That is what LSU held Alabama to last Saturday in their narrow loss in Tuscaloosa. But that was Bama. And this is Arkansas. The Crimson Tide have the 76th-ranked running game in the country. The Razorbacks are fourth. Not only is this running game averaging 244 yards per game on the ground, but it also spreads the love with four players with more than 400 rushing yards. Dominique Johnson got his first 100-yard rushing game of the season, going for 107 against Mississippi State, and he is averaging more than seven yards per carry on the season.
Razorback wide receiver Treylon Burks vs. LSU's patch-work defensive backs also will be a huge matchup. The Tiger cornerbacks crew is being held together by baling wire and duct tape, with injuries piling up like a M*A*S*H unit. Burks has produced 780 yards and eight touchdowns with his 47 catches, which is 30 more than any of his teammates. On top of that, quarterback KJ Jefferson is coming off his best game, having hit 19 of 23 passes against MSU, so he's in a groove.
If it worked against one UofA, it'll work against the other UofA too, right? I mean, we all saw it last Saturday, that ferocious Bengal Tiger pass rush kept Heisman Trophy contender Bryce Young off-kilter and off-schedule all game long. Jefferson has a knack of tucking and running more often (433 rushing yards this season), so it'll be important for the Tigers to keep a spy on him. Either way, look for the Tigers to add to their 28 sacks on the season with reckless abandon.
When LSU Has the Ball
Let the best man win… or at least get more playing time. In Monday's press conference, head coach Ed Orgeron stated that Max Johnson would indeed once again be the starting quarterback. But he also said that Garrett Nussmeier would get some reps behind center early in the game. "This week, we're going to let Max start, but I'm going to give Garrett some significant snaps at the beginning of the game," Orgeron said. "And the guy that ends up playing the best is going to play the most."
So there you have it. It's a quarterback competition played out in full display for everyone to see. It'll be 50-50 in practice this week and then whoever gets the hot hand in the first half of play vs. Arkansas will be the man, possibly for the rest of the season. By the way, Johnson is hitting on 60 percent of his passes while Nussmeier is hitting on just 42 percent, so we'll see what happens.
Other than that, look for LSU to carry over a couple of themes from the Alabama game, including taking a lot of chances and getting Tyrion Davis-Price unleashed. Look, the Tigers are 4-5 on the season and they're playing for a lame-duck coach. No reason to be conservative. They went 5-for-7 on fourth down against the Tide, including that very clever fake punt that got Avery Atkins a 100.0 QBR. Meanwhile, Davis-Price ran 23 times against Bama to earn his third 100-yard game of the season.
Man alive. The biggest question coming into this weekend in the SEC is whether or not we can expect the same kind of hair-on-fire effort from LSU. Hard to do, right? But check this out; in the final five possessions for Alabama, the Crimson Tide went three-and-out in four of them. So depth and injuries be damned, the Tigers played their best in the fourth quarter against one of the best offenses in the country.
Still, I've got to think the Tigers are going to be hard-pressed to match that intensity. And with the way Arkansas can run the ball and control the game, my knee-jerk reaction is to call for a Hogs win. Then again, this Tiger squad has momentum. And did I mention that it's a night game in Death Valley?
Prediction: LSU 23, Arkansas 17
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— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.