We haven’t seen LSU play a football game in nearly three weeks, but that wait seems to be nearing its end. Bright and early Saturday morning, LSU will be on the road headed up to Fayetteville to take on the Hogs. Joining us this week to preview the Razorbacks is Tucker Partridge, formerly of Arkansas Fight, now running his own Arkansas newsletter Pig Tales. You can subscribe to Pig Tales here.
1. Sam Pittman has to be the SEC Coach of the year right? What’s the biggest thing Pittman has brought to the Arkansas program?
I’ve obviously got a tremendous amount of bias, but I think Pittman ran away with SEC Coach of the Year in the first half of our game against Georgia. Holding a 7-5 halftime lead against the then #4 team in the country was enough to convince me that we had the right guy after two years of nonstop bleeding. I would say confidence is the biggest thing Sam Pittman has brought to Arkansas. The biggest failure of the Chad Morris era was the consistent lack of preparation before games, and I think two years of that led to the players hitting a mental block and feeling unable to win. Pittman came in and believed in the guys on the team, and from day one has made it clear that “we’re all we need.” Obviously there’s still a ways to go before we’re competing at a championship level, and there will be many, many challenges before we can even dare to think about that, but in the meantime, it’s that confidence that has inspired us to be the cool, fun team that we’ve been this year.
2. LSU is plenty familiar with Feleipe Franks, but haven’t seen him in a little over two years. How would you assess Franks’ season with the Hogs?
He has been a godsend. After going through eight (8!) starting quarterbacks during the Chad Morris era, stability was all Hog fans wanted, and Franks has delivered that and more. I understood Franks as a decently mobile quarterback with a massive arm and accuracy issues. Instead, what we’ve gotten is a decently mobile quarterback with a massive arm and who takes care of the football. So much was made about his turnovers at Florida, but he has not been a problem for Arkansas. There are times that he takes bad sacks instead of throwing the ball away and living to fight another down, but overall he’s been stellar. Having a veteran SEC presence has clearly helped with that confidence I mentioned above as well. Do I think he has a shot at the NFL? Probably not, but he’s everything we’ve needed this year, and for that, he’ll probably end up a cult hero in Arkansas.
3. How good is the Razorback defense really? On the one hand it held Miss State and Tennessee to 14 and 13 points; on the other hand Florida scored 63 and A&M scored 42. So which is it?
I would say that our scheme and defensive stars are really good, and that our depth is atrocious. Barry Odom is probably in consideration for the Broyles Award, and for good reason— he’s good at scheming up a defense. The wins against Mississippi State and Ole Miss were almost all scheme, and it showed why he’s regarded as one of the best defensive coordinators in college football. In terms of stars, freshman safety Jalen Catalon is already probably going to be one of the best defensive backs to play at Arkansas, and I don’t say that lightly. He’s a headhunter with a great habit of forcing turnovers. Jonathan Marshall on the line is very good too, and may have played his way into NFL consideration this year. The issues occur when the defense faces superior athletes who convert on third down. Chad Morris left the cupboard pretty bare. Cornerback Hudson Clark has been one of the great stories of the season because he’s been locked down in coverage as a walk on, but the fact that we had to start a walk on at cornerback points to those depth issues. If you can keep the defense on the field, the depth can’t hold up. The good news for Arkansas fans this year has been that takeaways have been a huge part of our defensive game, and that is a great way to get off the field. When Arkansas is forcing turnovers, things go well. When Arkansas can’t force turnovers like in the Florida and A&M games, you can out-athlete the depth of the team.
4. I find it interesting that while this game is considered a rivalry, it seems to mean more to Arkansas than LSU. Why does this game mean so much more to Arkansas?
Arkansas is in a lot of awkward places with rivalries. In the days of the Southwest Conference, it was usually Texas or Arkansas finishing first, so that was a meaningful rivaly— except Texas cared about OU more. Now in the SEC, we have the Golden Boot with LSU— except LSU cares about Bama more. Then you get the A&M series which should be a good old Southwest Conference rivalry— except they care about Texas more. Now, they’re forcing The Battle Line Rivalry Presented by Shelter Insurance ® with Missouri, who at the end of the day probably cares about Kansas more.
All of that to say, the Hogs are itching for a rivalry, and a reciprocated one probably isn’t coming soon (unless the SEC refs wanna make their beef with us public). With that said, I think Arkansas fans consider this game to be special because it seems close more often than not, and the game actually usually has some stakes. I think Arkansas fans have a huge respect for the fact that LSU is one of the SEC’s blue bloods, and getting one over on one of the blue bloods is always a treat when you feel like the redheaded step child of the conference. From the win in 2007 when y’all were #1 and we were unranked, to the 17-0 win in 2014 to break a 17 game SEC losing streak, to the Sugar Bowl decider in 2010, to both Miracles on Markham, Arkansas fans have had a lot to enjoy. Conversely, I feel like LSU fans could have fun with this rivalry if they leaned into it more. I still have nightmares about Trindon Holliday’s kickoff return in 2006, and his punt return in the 2009 game, and and #1 LSU curb stomping #3 Arkansas in 2011. There have been stakes in almost every game in the series, and despite the clear gulf in talent between the two teams, it’s been pretty close in a lot of fun games. For god’s sake, think of the 1947 “ICE BOWL” between the two teams that ended 0-0! I think that’s what makes a fun rivalry, and it’s why I always look forward to this game despite the overall record heavily favoring LSU.
5. You got any good mashed potatoes recipes?
I’ve got a special recipe I’ll be whipping up if Arkansas beats LSU.