Tigers return to action to face the Razorbacks on the road with both SEC West teams looking to get to .500
When the LSU Tigers and Arkansas Razorbacks tumble on the field, the series has churned out thrillers, especially over the last 20 seasons. Although the Tigers own a 13-7 advantage against the Hogs since 2000, regardless of rankings and win-loss records, this affair has been an attention-grabber for college football fans, with 11 of the contests decided by one score. All of that energy and enthusiasm in the Battle for the Golden Boot rivalry will be on display come Saturday when LSU heads to Fayetteville for an intriguing SEC showdown in Reynolds Razorbacks Stadium.
After a three-week layoff, LSU (2-3) will take the field rested with focus down the backstretch of the schedule. The Tigers' last appearance was on Oct. 31 when they took a shocking 48-11 loss to Auburn on the road. Since then, a bye and a postponed meeting against Alabama have passed. Against the War Eagles, little went right for LSU aside from the passing attack. The defense squandered 506 yards while LSU's rushing attack was shut down for 32 yards on 27 carries.
While LSU was resting, Arkansas (3-4) has been working. The Hogs went on the road in Week 11 tangling with a peaking Florida Gators squad. The No. 6 team in the nation did not hold back against their visitors, posting a 63-35 win. There were bright spots for the Razorbacks that included 208 yards on the ground and 250 passing, but then there was the defensive performance. Gators' quarterback Kyle Trask helped orchestrate a 593-yard effort that included 356 off his arm and six scores without throwing an interception.
LSU at Arkansas
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 21 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: LSU -2
When LSU Has the Ball
With starting quarterback Myles Brennan out for the season (abdominal), LSU head coach Ed Orgeron has turned to true freshman TJ Finley to lead the offense. Finley had a great opening against South Carolina, throwing for 265 yards with two touchdowns against one interception and only missing on four pass attempts. But against Kevin Steele's Auburn defense, life in the SEC took a hard turn; he was just 13-of-24 for 143 yards with two picks and zero touchdowns. What he lacks in experience, though, the towering QB can make up for with weapons. He has one of the conference's best targets on the outside in Terrace Marshall Jr., and true freshman tight end Arik Gilbert creates mismatches down the middle and in the flats.
For LSU fans with a heart condition, be sure to read the next statement lightly... the Tigers rushing attack is one of the worst in the nation. With John Emery Jr., Chris Curry, and Tyrion Davis-Price in the backfield, this should not be possible. Of the 126 FBS teams in action, the Tigers rank 104th in rushing offense at 119.6 yards per game. Take away the season-high 276-yard performance against the Gamecocks, and LSU is only producing 80.5 an outing. Making matters worse, the Tigers will be without tackle Dare Rosenthal (suspension) on Saturday, so sophomore Cameron Wire will take over.
As Arkansas has dropped eight to defend against the pass, their three-man front has been getting killed in the trenches against the run. Opponents are covering 183.4 per on the ground, with Auburn, Ole Miss, and Florida each topping the 200-yard mark. The Hogs have been opportunistic on defense by getting critical stops and key turnovers, leading to their three victories, but they still give up too many yards. Teams are putting up 245.5 yards per game through the air alone on Arkansas' defense. The depth in the secondary is dwindling, which should mean more zone coverage and gaps for LSU's tailbacks to run through.
When Arkansas Has the Ball
Strip away the final score, and Arkansas is fresh off a 35-point performance against the No. 6 team in the country. Putting up that kind of scoring against a good defense will win most SEC games. The Hogs leader is senior transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks. Franks is fourth in the SEC in passing yards (1,678) and among the conference leaders in completion rate (68.3 percent) and touchdown passes (16). Since coming over from Florida, Franks' decision-making has improved with just three picks thrown, but he still has a tendency to force a play taking a conference-high 21 sacks.
Franks has a growing roster of playmakers on offense to help support his cause including sophomore receiver Treylon Burks. Burks is in the top 10 among SEC receivers in receptions (34), yards (508), and touchdowns (5). The Hogs will be without their speed weapon in De'Vion Warren (ACL) for the rest of the season. However, Arkansas put together their second-best rushing game of the season versus the Gators, compiling 208 yards with three touchdowns. Trelon Smith led the way with 118 yards and a score off eight carries, while Rakeem Boyd put up 62 yards and a touchdown.
LSU's defense has been an on the field version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Against Mississippi State, Missouri, and Auburn, the defense surrendered over 500 total yards. The new 4-3 defense under coordinator Bo Pelini is not working. Opponents are covering 478.6 yards per game, ranked 113th nationally, and scoring 33.6 points per contest.
Unless one has a trustworthy crystal ball, this Golden Boot meeting is anyone's guess. Granted unforeseen additional practice time, LSU has had time to cover ground on gaps in the defense while preparing a young offense. There is talent on both sides of the ball, but will that talent play for four quarters as seen against USC or fall apart early as witnessed against Auburn?
Regardless of the team, Arkansas has shown a no-quit mentality. The Hogs were without several key players on both sides of the ball against Florida. Right guard Beaux Limmer and right tackle Noah Gatlin were out last week and are questionable going into Saturday.
The Hogs are on a lose-one-win-one streak. They have a great opportunity to end a four-game losing streak to the Tigers on Saturday if healthy.
Prediction: Arkansas 31, LSU 28
Podcast: Week 12 Preview and Predictions
— 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.