Arkansas football: How wild is this? Hogs are favored in the Battle for the Golden Boot
As one might expect, the Battle of the Golden Boot hasn’t been kind to Arkansas lately.
The Hogs have lost 7 of their past 9 matchups against rival LSU, including each of the past 4.
But this is a new season as the teams prepare to face at noon EST on Saturday in Fayetteville. Arkansas opened as the 3-point favorite. This is certainly jarring considering the Hogs were 42-point underdogs just a year ago.
However, things have changed quite drastically for both programs in a short period of time.
Arkansas is the most improved team in college football, sitting at 3-4 after winning no SEC games the 2 years prior. LSU took a steeper fall than many thought it would following the departure of Joe Burrow. The defending national champion Tigers began the year at No. 6 in the AP poll, but are currently 2-3 and unranked.
Is this the year Arkansas is able to put the Boot back on?
The Razorbacks could get first-year coach Sam Pittman back on the sidelines after he missed their game against Florida because of a positive COVID-19 test. That and not facing the Gators’ offense bodes well for them this week.
Aside from last week, Arkansas has been among the better defenses in the SEC.
The Hogs are forcing a league-leading 2.3 turnovers per game, including 1.9 interceptions. They also have 3 of the top 5 tacklers in the conference in Grant Morgan, Bumper Pool and Jalen Catalon.
The Tigers mix in run and pass equally, but have been far more effective at the former this season.
However, it remains to be seen whether that will stay the case following the loss of quarterback Myles Brennan due to an abdomen tear. Freshman TJ Finley has stepped in the past couple of games with mixed results. He tossed 2 touchdowns in a 52-24 victory against South Carolina but followed that with a pair of picks against Auburn.
Max Johnson also came in to throw a touchdown against Auburn. LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Monday that Finley likely will start. No matter who starts, this could be something Arkansas’ secondary takes advantage of to add to their takeaway total.
Offensively, Arkansas’ rushing game is starting to come alive.
The Hogs are averaging 209.3 yards per game on the ground over the past 3 contests. The return of Rakeem Boyd from injury has helped, but they are also getting production from a couple of other players.
Trelon Smith has had a few big games, including rushing for a season-high 118 yards against Florida. He leads the Razorbacks in total rushing yards (441) and yards per carry (5.7). Quarterback Feleipe Franks has been a much more active rusher as well, and came away with a career-high 91 yards on the ground against Texas A&M.
Speaking of Franks, he has looked steady all season.
After throwing 2 interceptions in the opener against Georgia, he has 15 touchdowns to just 1 pick since. The big question for the Hogs’ passing attack is who will replace De’Vion Warren. The senior was ruled out for the season Monday after suffering an ACL tear against the Gators. He was having a career year prior to the injury.
Trey Knox seems the most obvious answer. He has underwhelmed this season but showed flashes of potential his freshman year when he had 385 yards and 3 touchdowns.
LSU was also one of several SEC teams dealing with COVID-19 problems last week. The Tigers postponed their game against Alabama, but appear to be heading in the right direction to play this week. The extra week could work in their benefit, giving them more time to focus on the quarterbacks. Orgeron joked that he’d actually have 2 quarterbacks at practice Tuesday.
Arkansas is 3-4, but has followed every loss with a victory. Expect Pittman to have his team prepared to play and the Razorbacks to get the Boot back this week.