LSU heads to Fayetteville for our favorite post-Bama pothole, the Arkansas Razorbacks and the battle for the big pile of polished scrap metal.
In the last 10 years or so, Arkansas has been picking the Tigers’ carcass clean at the end of the November slate. And moving the game up to directly after the Bama game didn’t help matters — ugly losses in 2014 and 2015 helped pave the road for Les Miles’ departure (at one point, the Razorbacks were literally the only team that had ever defeated a Miles LSU team following a prior loss).
If there’s one thing Ed Orgeron has very clearly changed in his short tenure post-Miles, it’s been that trend; the Tigers followed up losses to Alabama with 28- and 23-point wins over Arkansas in the last two meetings. Resiliency has been one very sure quality of his LSU teams to date.
Of course, trends and streaks are always just one game away from ending, aren’t they? The 2-7 Razorbacks are rebuilding under a new head coach, but they’ll also be desperate to get Chad Morris a high-profile scalp for said year one.
Oh, and the weather will dip well into the 30s by kickoff.
What To Watch For On Saturday
The Alabama game is in the past. Dead and buried. LSU can’t be thinking about any of that this week, and has to be ready to move on. There’s still a ton to play for — maybe even an outside shot at the playoffs still. That has to start this week.
As bad as this Arkansas team has been (79th in S&P+, averaging 26 points per game but allowing 33, last in the SEC in third-down conversions and turnovers lost), they’ll no doubt bring a lot of emotion to this game. Defensive leaders like De’Jon Harris and Santos Ramriez are Louisiana natives that never received scholarship offers from LSU, and that’s plenty of motivation.
And I’ve always been a big believer that first-year coaches need something to hang their hat after that opening season — a high-profile win or some other sort of progress point to brag on. And a top-10 win in this rivalry game would help Chad Morris overcome a lot of griping about a losing year.
The Tigers will want to start this game fast, get Arkansas on the ropes, the crowd out of the game and then keep pushing. It’s not enough to just assume that the Bama game is in the rear-view mirror. It has to translate to the field as well.
Defensively, Arkansas has a familiar face in John Chavis running the defense. Unsurprisingly, he hasn’t had that great of an impact in year one — talent had been dropping on that side of the ball noticeably in Bret Bielema’s later years. To date, the Hogs are second to last in the league in scoring defense, in the bottom quarter of the league in pass defense efficiency, yards per play allowed and 10-plus yard rushing plays allowed as well.
Steve Ensminger knows what he’s going to see from The Chief: a 4-3 “over” front with lots of Cover-1 with some quarters mixed in. In looking at how the group has performed in other games, Chavis is bringing a lot of pressure from the weak side on passing downs; Arky has a respectable 23 sacks on the year so far.
When Chavis was still at Texas A&M, Ensminger had a ton of success attacking his defenses with different types of “wham” plays against the strong-side three-technique:
and a healthy amount of zone runs to the weak side, to attack the gap between the nose and the defensive end. I wouldn’t expect that to change. Some quick throws on running downs, especially to backs and tight ends, would be a smart way to attack the Razorback linebackers as well, which struggle to move sideline to sideline. This is a vulnerable pass defense, more so than the run. Use one to set up the other.
If there’s one thing Chavis excelled at, it was getting his players fired up for games like this. So some misdirection might also be a good way to take advantage of that lack of athleticism up front, and those overly juiced defenders.
A big problem for LSU’s offense this year has been avoiding third-and-long situations. This would be a good game to try and reverse that trend, because the Razorbacks have been very effective in blitzing situations (30th in blitz-down sack rate and 27th in blitz-down success rate). But stay on schedule, and the offense should be able to find room to operate.
When Morris picked up his first big college job as Clemson’s offensive coordinator he got the rap of “Diet Gus,” as a recently successful high school coach who followed Malzahn as the OC at Tulsa and was a fellow devotee of the hurry-up/no-huddle spread offense.
It’s pretty clear that Morris is still trying to meld what he wants to do with this attack with what his players CAN do coming out of Bielema’s more power-based attack, but I see a much more robust, well-rounded passing game compared to what Malzahn has run at Auburn.
Morris will still use buck sweeps, jet sweeps and a lot of the misdirection that we see out of Auburn, along with the obvious pace, but his passing game is much more fully formed. Not as based on play-action and just trying to get the ball into space in the flats or down the field.
The talent here is pretty sparse right now. QB Ty Storey has some decent mobility but he’s turnover prone, and his receivers can’t help him out much. Running back Rakeem Boyd does average a healthy 6.5 yards per carry. The big key for LSU is to get off the field when possible here and avoid the accumulation affect that can come when you let an offense like this hen-peck you to death; big plays in the fourth quarter when the defense is tired after 70 plays.
Negative plays have been a big problem for the Razorbacks to date (seven tackles for loss allowed per game), so Dave Aranda should be more than comfortable rolling up the corners and sending pressure.
Between the general ineffectiveness of the Razorbacks, and their tendency to cough the ball up — something LSU has been very adept at taking advantage of this year — this should be a strong match-up for the visiting Tigers. But it will be on both the coaches and players to put the disappointment of last week in the rear-view mirror.