Here we are, gang. The grand finale. The game of the year. Arkansas’ chance to show the country that they really do belong in the BCS discussions that are happening everywhere. Last week, Arkansas dismantled Mississippi State 44-17 in what was their most complete game of the season offensively, and defensively. Over the last three games, Coach Bobby Petrino has the Razorbacks playing their best football of the year as they’ve outscored South Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi State with a combined score of 137-52. And now, the Hogs travel to Baton Rouge to play the No. 1 team in the country.
Going into Tiger Stadium and beating LSU will be no easy task. Arkansas barely managed to win road games against Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, and let’s not forget about the 38-14 drubbing that Alabama handed the Hogs back in September. But if there is anything going positively for the Razorbacks right now, it’s their offense. Quarterback Tyler Wilson is on fire and the defense is finally healthy and playing a much improved style over the past three games. Mississippi State may have scored 17 points last week, but they only managed 211 yards of total offense against Arkansas. Yes, the Bulldogs’ offense is anemic, but good teams do what they’re supposed to against lesser opponents.
That being said, there are still quite a few people talking about how Arkansas doesn’t deserve their current No. 3 BCS ranking. In fact, since the SEC West was crowned with the top three spots in all major polls, there have been many discussions about who will end up in the SEC Championship game and, ultimately, the BCS Championship game. Basically, if the Hogs beat LSU, they SHOULD have their ticket punched for the BCS Championship. But, there are those that think Arkansas could beat LSU and still not make the championship game — which is absolutely ludicrous and further serves the notion that a college playoff is needed. In fact, most major media outlets don’t think Arkansas can win on Friday and have thus projected the Hogs to wind up in a non-BCS bowl game.
Before we can even start to speculate about what BCS bowl game Arkansas will wind up in, the Razorbacks have to beat LSU. In Baton Rouge.
This year the Tigers showcase the No. 2 defense in the country. LSU only allows an average of 247 yards and 10 points per contest (Alabama is first with 195 yards and 8.4 points). Led by corner backs Tyrann Mathieu and dark horse Heisman candidate Morris Claiborne, their secondary is stacked. The Tiger defensive line is solid and their linebacker play is great, too. Where the Tigers’ game struggles is on the offensive side of the ball. LSU is currently ranked 75th in total offense with 377 yards per game (167 passing and 209 rushing), but is scoring 37 points a game, which is only two points lower than Arkansas.
Much like the games against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, this matchup is already being called the Arkansas offense versus the LSU defense. And yes, the cliché has been tossed around, something’s gotta give.
Offensively: Arkansas simply cannot afford to come out flat at the start of the game against LSU like they did against Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. The Tiger defense will be a lot like Alabama — if the Hogs fall behind early, it could make a long day for Razorback fans. It will also be equally important that the Hogs establish their running game to keep the LSU defense honest in the secondary. Tyler Wilson has been doing a great job at playing smart lately, and this will be his biggest test of the season. If the Hogs offensive line can keep the pressure off Wilson, he could have a big day — LSU’s worst passing defense was against West Virginia where they allowed 463 yards in the air. Cobi Hamilton and Joe Adams might again have a hard time finding breathing room around the LSU cornerbacks, which means that Greg Childs, Jarius Wright and Chris Gragg could have big games. Dennis Johnson and the Arkansas line might have a hard time finding holes in the LSU defense, but the go-to running play has been the draw out of the pistol formation — it’s a great play to use LSU’s team speed against them. If the Hogs can get somewhat of a running game going, LSU might be allowing a bit more than their normal 10 points per contest.
Defensively: For as much flack as I’ve given Coach Willy Robinson over this season, the Razorback defense is playing great right now. There have been some breakdowns here and there over the past few weeks, so they’re still not perfect. Good teams can exploit those defensive breakdowns, but LSU may not be one of those teams. As mentioned above, the Tiger offense isn’t one to get overly excited about. LSU has a strong running game and a fairly weak passing game. The focus for the Hogs will be to stop LSU’s rushing attack of running backs Spencer Ware, Michael Ford and quarterback Jordan Jefferson. Arkansas has had a tough time with running quarterbacks over the past few years, so I’m betting LSU will be ready to run nearly every down. It will be important for our line and linebackers to get into the backfield and limit LSU’s running. If the Hogs can do that and make LSU start to throw the ball, it could be an even matchup.
Special Teams: We all know that if LSU Coach Les Miles is smart, he’ll keep the ball away from Joe Adams. But if I were Coach Smith for Arkansas, I’d be more concerned with Miles’ play-calling for special teams. Do not be surprised to see LSU try one, or two, trick plays on kickoffs, punts or even field goal attempts. It’s something that Arkansas has been fooled with all season and Miles is a big risk-taker at times.
With the recent death of redshirt freshman tight end Garrett Uekman, the Hogs will be playing with more emotion than normal. Offensive tackle Brey Cook posted a message to Facebook that said, “A team with something to play for can be dangerous. A team with someone to play for will be unstoppable.” Coach Petrino and his staff have the Hogs playing their best football at the best time of the year and they’ll have the Hogs ready to put the BCS nonsense away and focus on the game. It will take a nearly perfect game from the Hogs to knock off the unbeaten LSU Tigers.
The current line has LSU favored by 12 and there aren’t many in the media who believe Arkansas can win. If the Hogs go in and play how they’ve been playing lately by establishing their run and stopping LSU’s, this could be another great game for the Golden Boot. Unfortunately, as much as I want to, I’m not an absolute believer in the Hogs’ No. 3 ranking and I don’t think they’re on the same level as LSU (much less Alabama). I would love nothing more than to see the Hogs pull off the upset, however, I think that LSU’s defense will prove too much for the Hogs. My guess is LSU 34, Arkansas 24.
Let us know what you think the final score will be. If you’re the closest (see rules below), you’ll get a free t-shirt from Bearstate Supply.
How to enter
Leave a comment with your game prediction. If you want to add anything else, please feel free.
What you’ll win
One t-shirt of your choice (design, color, size) from the Bearstate Supply online store. (Hoodies, ringers and tri-blend AA’s not included)
- You only may enter this specific contest once.
- Contests are open to anyone anywhere except staff of Fayetteville Flyer and their immediate family members.
- The winning entry must pick the winning team and have the smallest combined difference from each team’s final score. Example: If the Razorbacks win by a score of 21-7, and your prediction was Razorbacks 20-10, your difference would be 1 + 3 = 4. In the event of a tie, a winner will be selected by a random drawing.
- You must pick the score by 15 minutes before kickoff for each game.
- Make sure you leave a valid e-mail address when filling out the comment form since that’s how we’ll contact you if you’ve won.
Arkansas at LSU
Date: Friday, Nov. 25, 2011
Time: 1:30 p.m.
Location: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.