Opponent analysis: Battle-tested Razorbacks to challenge LSU's mettle
Just like last season, the Arkansas Razorbacks are playing their best football at the end of the year. Riding a three-game winning streak and winners in four of their past five games, the Hogs invade Tiger Stadium at 7:15 p.m. (ET) Saturday for an SEC West battle with LSU on ESPN.
The Razorbacks (5-4, 3-2 in the SEC) broke a three-game losing streak to the Tigers (7-1, 4-1 in the SEC) with last season’s 17-0 blanking in Fayetteville. It was also just the second time in 10 meetings that either team won by more than a one-score margin. Twice the teams have gone to overtime in that span.
Nothing would indicate that things are going to be any different in this the 61st meeting between the two teams, with LSU holding a 37-21-2 series edge. Arkansas, which still needs one more victory to become bowl eligible, has grown accustomed to playing SEC West teams right down to the wire – and sometimes even beyond.
Of the four SEC West games Arkansas has played this season, three have gone into overtime, with Arkansas winning two, including last Saturday’s epic 53-52 triumph over Ole Miss.
LSU-Arkansas is no longer the final game on each team’s schedule, but the importance of the rivalry hasn’t diminished with the date change. Still at stake is “The Boot,” a trophy molded of 24-karat gold in the shape of the states of Arkansas and Louisiana. It weighs 200 pounds, carries a value of $10,000 and looks great in the trophy case at either school.
Louisiana sports betting is officially live in much of the state. Whether it is betting on SEC football or LSU football games or the Heisman race each year, if you live in Louisiana, you can now do it from your mobile phone.
Currently in the possession of Arkansas, the Tigers look to win it back as they’ve done 11 times in the 19-year history of the trophy. But it will be a difficult task to accomplish.
The Tigers had a difficult time in wrapping up Alabama RB Derrick Henry last week, and face a different kind of threat in Arkansas QB Brandon Allen. Absolutely on fire the past few weeks, Allen comes into Saturday’s game with the best QB rating (167.4) in the SEC. He’s second in the conference with 275.1 passing yards per game and leads an offense that averages 472.6 yards per contest. Only Ole Miss (526.6) produces more.
For LSU, the best defense is going to have to be a good offense. The Tigers must return to pounding opponents in the ground game and control the battle for time of possession. Sophomore RB Leonard Fournette, who fell off his perch as the Heisman frontrunner last week after rushing for just 31 yards on 19 carries against Alabama, should get ample opportunity to re-energize his Hesiman campaign.
Facing pass-happy foes Ole Miss, Auburn, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech, the Hogs haven’t been tested on the ground like they will by LSU. However, the Hogs did limit Alabama to just 134 yards on 46 running plays. It was through the air (262 passing yards) that the Crimson Tide was able to close out the 27-14 victory.
So LSU QB Brandon Harris must also contribute on Saturday while facing the SEC’s worst pass defense, at least in terms of yards allowed. The Hogs have given up a whopping 2,552 yards through the air so far this season.
Saturday’s game shapes up to be another in the long line of hard-fought, drama-filled, extremely entertaining SEC West clashes.
ARKANSAS: A CLOSER LOOK
Top returning player, offense: Brandon Allen, Sr. QB – Experience and leadership are the top qualities of this veteran, who has started 30 consecutive games for the Hogs. Allen earned SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his contributions in Saturday’s 53-52 overtime victory at then No. 19 Ole Miss. Allen completed 33 of 45 passes for 442 yards and a program-record six touchdowns. For the season, Allen has compiled 2,476 yards passing and 21 TDs, completing 65 percent of his throws (174-for-268) with just five interceptions.
Top returning player, defense: Brooks Ellis, Jr. LB – Named to the Butkus Award Watch List, Ellis is living up to expectations. The team leader with 74 tackles this season, including 36 solo, Ellis has recorded five tackles for loss and also displayed his wheels by returning an interception 28 yards.
Top returning player, special teams: Toby Baker, Jr. P – A Ray Guy Award nominee, Baker has proven to be a valuable weapon. Baker averages 40.2 yards per punt on 30 boots. His longest was a 52-yarder, one of five punts of 50-plus yards this season. He’s also knocked 18 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.