Saturday night LSU will try to maintain control over the Golden Boot, the trophy that could kill.
That’s right, it’s LSU-Arkansas week and the Tigers are going to have to try and pick themselves up off the mat after a hard fought effort against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Say what you will about Ed Orgeron, but he has yet to lose to the Hogs in his time at LSU and it sure would be nice if he could maintain that perfect record.
But in the other corner is an up and coming Arkansas team that second year head coach Sam Pittman has worked wonders for. Joining us to preview the Hogs is Tucker Partridge, formerly of our sister site Arkansas Fight but now runs his own site which he runs on substack over at pigtales.substack.com
1. Arkansas’s coming into this game kind of feeling themselves aren’t they? The Hogs got the No. 25 spot in this week’s CFP poll and are bowl eligible plus LSU’s coming off a hard fought loss. It seems almost too easy right?
If the Chad Morris era has taught us anything, it is that it is never too easy. Personally, I’m always frightened by an underachieving LSU team, because their talent is always good enough to pop off at random. We’re learning that Florida isn’t so good, but I was still impressed by that win. As for how we’re feeling, it’s hard to say. After getting bowl eligible, Pittman is playing with house money, so at this point, any extra wins feel, well, extra. I think Arkansas is capable of winning this game, and depending on which LSU shows up, it could be a big win. I can also see holes in our defense over the past couple of games that frighten me tremendously, and make a blowout the other way possible. I think the line is about right, but ESPN’s FPI has LSU favored by 60%, so who knows? I’d hardly say we’re feeling ourselves...
2. Can you even put into words the job Sam Pittman’s done in such a short amount of time?
No. In all seriousness, Pittman has done the unthinkable. I thought we’d be lucky to squeak into a bowl this year, but we’re on a trajectory now where 7 or 8 wins are possible. It’s really unbelievable. Chad Morris was so bad that it actually made me wonder as an Arkansas fan if the damage was permanent, and that my team may never be relevant again. To be on the brink of such a successful season, having already clinched a bowl, hammered Texas, and beaten A&M after a decade of losses, is really, truly unbelievable. I could go on, and I’m sure I’ll write some kind of ode to Pittman some day, but I’ll spare your readers.
3. Arkansas was one of the darlings of college football early on thanks in no small part to their defense. Some of that shine faded when the Hogs dropped three in a row though. Did the defense regress or was it just a matter of stepping up in weight class?
I think it was a little bit of both. Our long road stint from Jerryworld to Georgia to Ole Miss, then getting Auburn at home got us really beaten up. We’ve lost Jalen Catalon for the season (and maybe to the NFL), and we still just don’t have the depth yet to handle the attrition of an SEC gauntlet. We’ve been national champs of hardest schedule three years in a row, and when your best guys are banged up, it’s hard to win. One of my friends said, “September was fun. September was not sustainable.” Getting a cupcake UAPB team and a bye right before Mississippi State was a godsend, as we finally got some guys healthy again. I don’t think we’ll play like September still, but we should at least be more competent at completing tackles. I’m a little worried about a trend of blown coverages this year, but we’ll see how the rest of the season plays out. I expect much more regression next year when we lose Grant Morgan, Bumper Pool, and Hayden Henry at linebacker among others.
4. KJ Jefferson’s not the same guy LSU fans might remember from his freshman year in 2019. How much has developed over the past three years and do you like his chances against an LSU defense that’s playing a lot better despite the numerous injuries?
I can’t heap enough praise on KJ. He’s been our most valuable player by far this year, and the growth he’s shown from that start in Death Valley against the best team in history has been tremendous. I’ve been most impressed by his accuracy this year. Early on in the season, he missed some mid-range throws that were concerning, but since then, he’s turned those misses into some amazing throws. I legitimately think he has an NFL caliber arm, which is a wonderful complement to the wheels we knew he had. Knowing that we’ve got him next year too is tantalizing. This is his first full year as the starter, and he’s done everything expected of him and more. I trust him against any defense except Georgia’s (though I’m not sure I’d trust 2019 Joe Burrow against this Georgia team), but I know LSU always has talent. If we lose, I don’t think it will be KJ’s fault.
5. The Golden Boot is an interesting rivalry in that the game seems to mean more to Arkansas but LSU would obviously prefer to have the boot than not. What’s this game mean to you and do you think the Hogs will finally get to take the boot home to Fayetteville?
5. I’ve always loved this game because my earliest memories of Arkansas football are tailgating in Little Rock before the Battle for the Boot. I know it means more to us than y’all, but it does mean a lot to me! From the Miracle(s) on Markham to Run DMC, a lot of my best memories with my dad and grandpa were spent watching this game. I think we have what it takes to get the Boot this year, so in the interest of being a biased Arkansas fan, I’ll pick the pigs to win 34-31, and maybe we get an overtime or two?
I’m back writing on Pig Tales again, so if you’ll allow me to shamelessly plug, that can be found at pigtales.substack.com, and you can follow me on Twitter, @TuckerPartridge.