Arkansas football: Final thoughts and a prediction
The Battle for the Golden Boot. That’s the prize for the winning team on Saturday in Baton Rouge. Arkansas (6-3, 2-3) visits Tiger Stadium to take on an LSU (4-5, 2-4) team that doesn’t have much left to play for. A trophy sure would ease some of the pain from an immensely disappointing season.
“We’d like to have it,” Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman said of the 4-foot-tall, 175-pound behemoth.
The Tigers have come away with the trophy 15 times to just 8 for Arkansas since it was created in 1996. LSU has won the last 5 meetings. The last time Arkansas won in Baton Rouge was the 2015 game, a 31-14 victory.
The Hogs have won in Tiger Stadium just twice since 1993. The other time was a wild 50-48, 3-overtime game over an LSU team that went on to win the national championship.
To say the Razorbacks are overdue would be an understatement, but LSU just might be playing its best football to date. The Tigers were a Hail Mary pass away from beating Alabama last week on the road. Will that heartbreaking loss deflate them to the point where they sleepwalk through Saturday’s game?
It’s difficult to imagine an LSU team not playing up to its potential in front of the home crowd. But the Tigers have not put back-to-back solid efforts together since SEC play began. They have given great effort in big games. They beat Florida at home and nearly got the Tide in Tuscaloosa.
It will be interesting to see if they have anything left in the tank after the long season and deflating loss in a game in which they probably outplayed Alabama. Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron said he believed that his was the better team that night.
So which way does this game go on Saturday? Arkansas will surely want to run the ball. The Hogs have done it as effectively as anyone, leading the SEC with 243.8 rushing yards per game.
Could LSU stuff the Razorbacks’ run game like it did last Saturday, when it held Alabama to 6 yards rushing, a school-record low for an SEC game?
“They were all over the place. They played extremely well,” said Pittman of the Tigers’ defensive effort.
How does Arkansas counter that, and will sophomore running back Dominique Johnson be the key? All season, Pittman has tried to figure out ways to get Johnson more carries. Johnson toted it just 39 times before getting the start last Saturday against Mississippi State.
Johnson is a budding star in the backfield, if his 107 yards on 17 carries and 2 TDs against the Bulldogs were any indication. Will he see even more action this Saturday?
“He was running pretty good at the end of the game,” Pittman noted. “So we could probably give him a few more.”
That’s good news for an already solid backfield that includes senior Trelon Smith and freshman Raheim Sanders. Throw in the running abilities of quarterback KJ Jefferson, and it’s easy to see why the Hogs lead the SEC in rushing.
That would be enough to swing me in favor of the Razorbacks on Saturday, but one big X factor has to be considered. Orgeron has already made it public that he is burning the redshirt of quarterback Garrett Nussmeier in order for the freshman to play Saturday. He won’t be under center initially, but expect a very short leash on LSU starter Max Johnson.
Nussmeier’s numbers aren’t impressive in his 3 games. He’ll make freshman mistakes. But the guy can sling it, and he hasn’t met a pass yet that he wouldn’t throw.
That could work either way for Arkansas. Nussmeier has the arm strength to make the big play. He also has the inexperience to make a bad play. In all probability, he’ll do both on Saturday.