Arkansas looks to continue the momentum from last week’s win over Florida, as LSU visits Fayetteville in a clash of SEC West rivals and the annual battle for the Golden Boot. The Razorbacks trail in the all-time series, but coach Bret Bielema’s team has won two in a row over the Tigers. Last season, Arkansas posted a dominant 31-14 victory over LSU and recorded a 17-0 shutout in 2014.
While the Razorbacks are out of the SEC West title picture, a late-season surge would help this team improve its bowl position. Arkansas hosts LSU this Saturday, followed by games against Missouri and Mississippi State. If the Razorbacks build on the strong performances from both sides of the ball against Florida, Bielema’s team can finish with a 9-3 record and potentially look at a postseason destination in the Sunshine State.
On the LSU sideline, it’s all about regrouping after the loss to Alabama. The Tigers lost only 10-0, but the actual on-field play was a one-sided affair. The defense kept Alabama from opening it up on the scoreboard, as LSU’s offense once again sputtered in a big game. The challenge for interim coach Ed Orgeron is to prevent last week’s loss from becoming a second defeat. The Tigers have lost to the Razorbacks in each of the last two seasons after playing Alabama. Finding a spark on offense is essential after LSU managed only 2.5 yards per play against the Crimson Tide.
LSU owns a 37-22-2 series edge over Arkansas. However, the last six meetings are tied at three victories apiece. The Razorbacks won the last meeting in Fayetteville with a 17-0 shutout of the Tigers.
LSU at Arkansas
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: LSU -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Leonard Fournette Against Arkansas’ Run Defense
As expected, LSU running back Leonard Fournette didn’t find much room to run against Alabama last Saturday. Fournette recorded 35 yards on 17 carries last week, with his longest run lasting only nine yards. In three career matchups against the Crimson Tide, Fournette was limited to just 145 yards on 57 attempts. However, prior to last week’s game against Alabama, the junior looked healthy after battling injuries earlier in the season. He gashed Ole Miss for 284 yards and three scores and caught three passes for 25 yards.
After Fournette was held in check by Alabama’s defense, will the junior get back on track on Saturday night? Arkansas ranks 11th in the SEC against the run, allowing 198.4 yards per game. Additionally, the Razorbacks are giving up 6.1 yards per rush and have allowed the most rushing touchdowns (24) of any SEC team. In an effort to improve the rush defense, coach Bret Bielema and coordinator Robb Smith made a few lineup tweaks against Florida. Jeremiah Ledbetter was shifted from tackle to end, freshman McTelvin Agim started at defensive tackle, and Randy Ramsey was inserted at strongside linebacker. So far, so good. Arkansas held Florida to just 12 yards on 14 carries and limited the Gators to no touchdowns on offense.
Florida’s offense hasn’t been overly prolific, but the performance against LSU is a good sign for Bielema and Arkansas’ defense. Can this unit continue that play on Saturday night? Stopping Fournette and dynamic backup Derrius Guice is the first challenge. The Tigers’ offensive line is among the best in the SEC and will challenge the remodeled front seven of Arkansas.
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2. Arkansas QB Austin Allen Versus LSU’s Secondary
This is another strength versus strength battle. LSU’s secondary is one of the best in the nation and ranks No. 4 in the SEC in pass efficiency defense. Anchored by standout cornerback Tre’Davious White and safety Jamal Adams, the Tigers have allowed only four passing scores and limited quarterbacks to a 57.8 completion percentage. This unit will be tested on Saturday night, as Arkansas ranks third in the SEC in passing and is led by quarterback Austin Allen – one of the league’s top quarterbacks in 2016. The junior has passed for 2,291 yards and 19 scores through nine games and ranks third among SEC quarterbacks with 31 completions of 20 yards or more. Allen has a variety of options at his disposal, including standout tight end Jeremy Sprinkle (23 receptions) and receivers Drew Morgan (48 catches), Jared Cornelius (19.4 ypc) and Keon Hatcher (29 grabs).
Production against good defenses hasn’t been a problem for Allen. The junior threw for 371 yards against Texas A&M and 400 against Alabama. However, no quarterback has managed to throw for more than 250 yards against LSU’s secondary, and Allen will be under fire from a front seven that ranks fourth in the SEC with 21 sacks. End Arden Key leads the team with eight sacks, while junior Davon Godchaux (41 tackles and five sacks) is posting another strong season for the defensive line.
Arkansas tweaked its offensive line against Florida, inserting sophomore Johnny Gibson as the team’s right guard. The lineup changes were a result of a line that has struggled at times this season and has surrendered 22 sacks through nine games. However, the line held its own against a stout Florida front seven, allowing only one sack and opening up rushing lanes for Rawleigh Williams and Devwah Whaley.
The battle of Austin Allen against LSU’s secondary is critical, but the Razorbacks also have to win the battle up front and not allow their quarterback to be pressured throughout the night.
3. LSU’s Passing Game
Interim coach Ed Orgeron promised to tweak LSU’s offense to open up the downfield passing game. The Tigers passed the test against Southern Miss, Missouri and Ole Miss but couldn’t get the aerial attack going against Alabama. Quarterback Danny Etling completed 11 of 24 passes for 92 yards and one pick against the Crimson Tide. That’s a far cry from the 11 of 18 for 276 yards and three scores he posted against Southern Miss.
Alabama didn’t have to devote an extra defender in the box to slow Fournette, but Arkansas may have to utilize more than just seven-man fronts to stop the run. Even though the Razorbacks stuffed Florida’s ground attack last week, LSU’s offensive line and running backs are going to present a bigger challenge. That’s why Etling’s performance will be so critical on Saturday night. Can the junior connect on enough downfield throws to D.J. Chark, Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural to prevent Arkansas from stuffing the box? The Razorbacks rank eighth in the SEC in pass efficiency defense but have limited opponents to just seven touchdowns through the air.
Will LSU open the game by testing Arkansas downfield to create opportunities for the ground game? If the Tigers lean on the pass early, will Etling have more success than he did last week? Or was the three-game jump in production just a mirage?
Motivation and the rivalry angle are huge factors in this game. Arkansas has momentum on its side after last week’s win over Florida, while LSU is looking to end a recent trend of losses following a defeat against Alabama. The matchups in this game favor the Tigers. Leonard Fournette and LSU’s offensive line will be a challenge for Arkansas’ defensive front. The Razorbacks held up well last week, but this is a significantly tougher opponent in the trenches. And when Arkansas has the ball on offense, the line is going to have its hands full in protecting Austin Allen. While LSU has the edge in a couple of personnel battles, the Razorbacks are at home and the motivation angle works in their favor. Bret Bielema and Arkansas makes it three straight over the Tigers.