5 things I need to see from LSU against Arkansas
It’s almost Thanksgiving and LSU hasn’t played since Halloween.
That’s a lot of time to try and fix stuff – and the Tigers have a lot of stuff that needs fixing.
Even with some lost time due to player absences because of COVID-19 quarantining, LSU (2-3) should look better when it visits Arkansas on Saturday than it did the last time it played – in a 48-11 loss at Auburn.
It should look better than it did in earlier losses to Mississippi State and Missouri.
It should look better than it has for most of this season.
If the coaches and players made good use of their open date and the preparation for the game against Alabama before it was postponed as well as the time to zero in on the Razorbacks, it should show on Saturday.
Here are 5 things I need to see from LSU against Arkansas:
1. Some evidence that the defense is getting better
It’s sounding like a broken record, but at some point Bo Pelini and his defense have to demonstrate that they are successfully addressing the issues on defense and moving forward.
After the terrible opener against Mississippi State the defense showed marginal improvement against an outmanned Vanderbilt team.
Then it was terrible again against Missouri.
Then it showed marginal improvement in a win against South Carolina, but mostly the offense just kept the defense’s time on the field to a minimum.
Then came another terrible performance against Auburn.
Pelini and head coach Ed Orgeron said they have simplified the defense. Orgeron said improved tackling would be a point of emphasis in practice this week.
It’s time to show that the defense is simple enough to reduce the countless number of mental breakdowns it keeps having. It’s time for what is supposed to be a talented defense to show it can do basic stuff like shedding blocks, tackling ball carriers and breaking up passes.
Feleipe Franks is playing very well. Arkansas made several big plays even in a 63-35 loss at Florida last week.
If LSU doesn’t play much better on defense Saturday, it will allow 600-ish yards and 40-plus points yet again.
2. A commitment to the running game
Remember how you ran the ball against South Carolina? Do that again.
The numbers don’t have to be as gaudy, but the determination to be successful running the ball from start to finish has to be as strong.
The line has to be physical and show stamina. The receivers have to help with the blocking. All the backs have to run hard and smart. The quarterbacks have to help out periodically.
And coordinator Steve Ensminger has to enter the game committed to running the ball and remained committed even if in-game developments demand tweaks.
3. A victory in the turnover battle
Orgeron said it this week – the Tigers have to win the turnover battle. Arkansas is plus-8 on the season and LSU is plus-4.
The Tigers need to be plus-something.
TJ Finley turned the ball over 3 times against Auburn. That provided 3 touchdowns for Auburn.
Arkansas has intercepted 13 passes, most in the SEC, so the potential for more problems is there.
LSU needs to keep the turnovers to a minimum and preferably play a clean game. The defense needs to take the ball away.
4. A thorough look at both quarterbacks
Ensminger and passing game coordinator Scott Linehan have had plenty of time to evaluate how to use Finley and Max Johnson.
Finley has started both games that Myles Brennan has missed. He’ll likely get the start Saturday.
Johnson played against South Carolina after victory was assured and he played against Auburn after defeat was assured.
Let’s see them both play when the game’s on the line. Let’s see packages that play to their individual strengths. Let’s see what they can do. Let’s see how Arkansas handles it.
5. Big plays from other freshmen
It’s not just the quarterbacks. There are a bunch of freshmen who have to come through if the Tigers are going to improve.
If this season is going to be an aberration and not the beginning of a downward spiral, these freshmen are going to be important.
Orgeron named a bunch this week, most notably Arik Gilbert, Kayshon Boutte and Elias Ricks. Each has had a least a couple of nice moments this season.
LSU needs more from them.
In fact it needs more from everybody.