1. Arkansas has gutted out two comeback wins the last few weeks -- bad team that is still fighting for its coach, or just a bad team scraping by versus other bad teams?
"Gutted-out” is a really kind way to describe those two comebacks, but it's a lot better than what we've usually seen in second halves the past couple of years so I'll take it. I think both of the above are true. Despite doing a really poor job this year, it's pretty clear that Bielema cares about his guys and they like playing for him. Unfortunately this team is really bad and they're definitely just scraping by. The Coastal comeback was needed because of some really lackluster play that put them in a hole and they got a lot of help from Ole Miss in that comeback. So there is some fight in this team, but it's still just a really poor team.
2. The Razorbacks didn't exactly have high expectations coming into this year, but getting to a bowl seems like a longshot at the moment. Can you pinpoint what's been the problem (or problems)?
The two problems I point to for this team is offensive line play and recruiting. When OL coach Sam Pittman left for Georgia, Bielema replaced him with Kurt Anderson who was previously with the Buffalo Bills. That hire has proven to be an absolute disaster. Arkansas is currently 117th in FBS when it comes to sacks allowed. The poor O-Line play has really handcuffed what Dan Enos can do with play calling and leads to a lot of short possessions, which means the defense is out there a lot. Most games this year the defense has worn down and shown signs of mental fatigue, leading to big plays later in the game. The current staff has also failed to really build any depth with their recruiting. They've been extremely selective with who they go after and have ended up empty handed more often than not. That has lead to a lack of depth that has hit the team hard. The injury bug has been really tough this year, with the five guys they were planning on relying on most this year (Austin Allen, Frank Ragnow, Rawleigh Williams, Jared Cornelius, and Ryan Pulley) all missing significant time. They just don't have the depth to replace that.
3. What the heck happened to Austin Allen? From one of the SEC's rising stars, to on the bench? And what has Cole Kelley brought to the table in his place?
Man, I feel bad for Austin. Dude would get beaten into the turf every game and just get back up and keep competing. The South Carolina game finally knocked him out for some significant time with a shoulder injury. He could be back against LSU but Bielema hasn't said anything definitive about who starts this week. Before the injury he wasn't exactly lighting it up though, and I think it has a lot to do with the insane amount of hits his body has racked up in the past 18 months. His technique and decision making took a downward turn this year and there is a lot of trying to force something quickly cause he knew a hit was coming. Kelley hasn't turned the offense around but he's shown some real potential and at the least has given the fans something fun to watch this year. He's from Lafayette and picked up the nickname "Steamboat" in part because of his size (He's listed as 6-7, 270 pounds and I'd wager that's on the light side). He's got a good arm and his decision making is getting better each week. He also likes to run, and he's slow as hell but hard to bring down, which has been effective in short yardage situations.
4. Can Bret Bielema save his job with a win on Saturday, or is this all just playing out the string? If so, what is next for Arkansas, in your opinion?
I think he's got to make a bowl game to get to 2018 as Arkansas' coach, but that is probably asking too much of this team to win two of the last three games. Bielema lost the fans really early in the season and there just haven't been any signs to point to that things will turn around quickly. Should that happen, what comes next for Arkansas is really anyone's guess. Mike Norvell is a popular name that's getting thrown around, but of course everyone looking for a coach is looking at him. Neal Brown is another name being tossed around. Jeff Long has proven twice now though he will think outside of the box when going after a football coach. Really no one was expecting Bielema to come to Arkansas after Petrino got fired and I wouldn't be surprised if another name came from out of left field.
5. Best guess as to what might happen on Saturday? It feels like Arkansas always has some extra energy saved up for LSU.
I think the offense could make things fun for a little bit, especially if Kelley makes a couple of plays and they finally stop keeping TJ Hammonds off the field for god-knows-what reasons. I just don't trust the defense against a solid run game at all. The LSU run game will get 4-5 yards every time they carry the ball if they want it. That just makes for a prolonged death for the Hogs in this one. This game has something like a 35-13 feel to it. I would expect the first half to be reasonably close and LSU blows things up with a big third quarter.