Bret Bielema's Razorbacks head to Baton Rouge to take on the Tigers needing two more wins to become bowl eligible
The SEC offers no breaks during the college football season, providing one tough game after another. When the Arkansas Razorbacks (4-5, 1-4 SEC) travel to Baton Rouge on Saturday to face the LSU Tigers (6-3, 3-2), neither team will have time to lick wounds from a hard-fought Week 10 posting different results but with the same kind of feeling to the respective fan bases.
Depending on the outlook, the eternal optimist can boast that the Razorbacks had one of their better offensive games of the season last week, netting 259 rushing yards and 264 yards passing on the way to a 39-38 come-from-behind win over Coastal Carolina. The pessimist will note that Coastal Carolina entered the game with a 1-7 record in its first season at the FBS level. The Chanticleers did not roll over as the homecoming opponent, winning the time of possession and converted 8-of-15 third down opportunities while holding the Hogs to three third down conversions on nine attempts.
In Tuscaloosa last week, LSU went head-to-head with No. 2 Alabama before falling 24-10. The Tigers outgained the Crimson Tide in total offense, 306-299, but had difficulties moving the ball into the red zone for scoring opportunities. The Tigers' defense was tough, especially on third downs only allowing conversions on 5-of-14 Alabama chances.
Arkansas enters the showdown seeking to get out of the SEC West cellar, while LSU is pushing forward molding a culture for future teams under first-year head coach Ed Orgeron.
Arkansas at LSU
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 11 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: LSU -16.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Productivity in the Arkansas pocket
With senior quarterback Austin Allen hurt in the South Carolina game (Oct. 7), redshirt freshman Cole Kelley has stepped in as the Hogs starter. Even though Allen started the first five games, Kelley is leading the team in passing yards with 1,002 to Allen’s 850 with both tied at eight passing scores. Kelley has completed 60 percent of his passes and is showing signs of improvement, while Allen has connected 56 percent of the time. Allen is now healthy, but Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema has not announced a starter for the LSU game.
Whoever gets the start will face a fierce LSU secondary allowing 175 passing yards per game, 12th-best in the country. The Tigers are also one of the best teams in the nation at getting after the quarterback, averaging 3.33 sacks per game. The Hogs cannot protect the passer with 28 total sacks taken this season.
2. LSU run defense
If Arkansas has a shot at pulling out a win in Baton Rouge, it must run the ball effectively. If LSU has a weakness on defense, it is against the run, allowing 142 yards per game. The Hogs run game has been inconsistent throughout the season but is showing signs of life, rushing for 171 yards against Auburn and 260 against Ole Miss after being held to 27 against Alabama.
Should LSU commit to stopping the run the way it did against Alabama last week, allowing just 116 yards, this could be a very long game for the Razorbacks.
3. The play of LSU’s ground game
LSU’s preseason All-SEC running back Derrius Guice has been slowed for much of the season by a leg injury. After big games against BYU and Chattanooga to start the season, Guice failed to reach the 100-yard mark in the next four games played. The explosion in his runs came back Oct. 21 with a 22-carry 276-yard and one touchdown performance against Ole Miss, but he was then held to 71 yards on 19 carries against Alabama. Junior running back Darrel Williams bailed out the offense against Alabama with 83 yards on seven carries.
Statistically, Arkansas has trouble stopping the run, getting ripped for 190 yards per game on average.
Fans may be surprised to learn that Arkansas and LSU have split their last 10 meetings. LSU bucked a two-game losing trend to Arkansas in 2016, winning 38-10. The Hogs typically get the benefit of playing LSU after the Tigers have faced a physically tough game against Alabama. Last year the emotional hangover for LSU was avoided. Can the Tigers rise to the occasion again?
Arkansas must win at least two of their next three games to become bowl eligible. The Hogs, in theory, are also fighting for Bielema’s job — the motivation to win is there. But the Hogs do not have a quality win this season.
Prediction: LSU 38, 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.