Arkansas Razorbacks vs. LSU Tigers Complete Game Preview
Well, this is it. Friday's road trip to the LSU Tigers is the Arkansas Razorbacks' last chance to avoid not winning a single SEC game, which would be a first in the program's history.
The Battle for the Golden Boot is usually a close-fought rivalry, but it's going to take a near-perfect game for the Razorbacks to even have a chance.
LSU is coming off a 34-10 drubbing of the Johnny Manziel-led Texas A&M Aggies in Death Valley. The Tigers shut down Manziel and the Aggie offense, holding them to just 299 yards of total offense. The Razorbacks on the other hand lost a heartbreaker, 24-17, to Mississippi State in Little Rock, despite playing much better football than they had been.
This game has a lot more meaning for LSU, which can improve its bowl status with a win. It has some meaning for Arkansas, too, which would love to avoid capping off a disastrous 2013 campaign with a history-making loss.
And of course, every time the Hogs and Tigers meet there is meaning because it's a border state rivalry and a series that has seen 58 meetings between the two programs dating back to 1901. Even if one of the teams has had a miserable season, such as Arkansas, it can be somewhat salvaged by lifting the 100-pound Golden Boot trophy.
Here's everything you will need to know for Friday's gridiron matchup.
Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
Place: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.
Radio: Arkansas Razorbacks Radio Network and LSU Radio Network
Spread: LSU by 24.5, according to vegasinsider.com.
Arkansas Keys to Victory
If the Razorbacks are going to have any sort of chance to pull off the upset, the defense is going to have to force the Tigers to make mistakes and capitalize on them. Most of the big upsets you see happen because the team that was supposed to win committed crucial turnovers.
Arkansas is tied for 111th nationally in turnovers gained with just 12 on the season. The Hogs need to create turnovers from LSU, which is doable.
The Tigers are tied for 46th in turnovers lost with 16, so while that's not bad, they do make mistakes. If Arkansas gets a turnover, it has to get points out of it and make LSU pay. The Hogs will also have to avoid giving up the ball themselves.
Slow Down LSU's Rushing Attack
It's very rare nowadays to face a team that has one primary running back and the Tigers are no exception. The Razorbacks have had all sorts of problems stopping the run game, ranking 71st in the country in rushing yards per game allowed (173.0).
LSU could have the deepest backfield Arkansas has faced all season, with four backs that have 300 yards or more and at least 60 carries.
Jeremy Hill leads the way with 1,040 yards on 155 carries (6.7 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns. At 6'2", 235 pounds, Hill has good speed for a guy his size and is a powerful, physical runner. Behind him are Terrence Magee (72 carries, 556 yards, six touchdowns), who is averaging a blistering 7.7 YPC, Kenny Hilliard (67 attempts, 307 yards, seven touchdowns) and Alfred Blue (62 rushes, 300 yards, one touchdown).
The Tigers are able to keep their backs fresh throughout the game with great depth. The Arkansas front seven have to tackle better in this game and get to LSU's backs before they get a full head of steam, or they will run all over the Razorbacks.
It's going to be crucial that Arkansas has success on the ground, but it will also be important that quarterback Brandon Allen is effective.
His ineffectiveness for most of the year has adversely affected the running game. Freshman Alex Collins and sophomore Jonathan Williams have still gotten their yards, but their stats could be even better if Allen was not struggling so much.
If he can make some plays and force the LSU defense to respect his arm, it would force the Tigers to not load the box and help open up lanes for Collins and Williams. And on the flip side, if Collins and Williams can get yards on the ground, it will help open up receivers for Allen.
LSU Keys to Victory
Slow Down Razorbacks Rushing Attack
With as much as Allen has struggled this season, when teams have been able to shut down the Arkansas ground game, they have basically shut down the whole offense.
The Tigers want to put the pressure on Allen to win the game with his arm, which he has not proven he can do. This key for LSU is really that simple. Stop Collins and Williams so Allen will have to make plays through the air.
Attack Arkansas Secondary Early
The addition of Cam Cameron after the 2012 season has really been huge for Mettenberger. He has improved his stats in just about every category from his junior to senior year.
Mettenberger will want to test the Arkansas secondary, which ranks 77th in the FBS, giving up 235.3 YPG, early like Texas A&M did. The Tigers' Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry are the only two receivers on the team that have more than 10 catches and 200 yards, but both have more than 1,000 yards and 50 receptions. They are each averaging more than 15 YPC and could have big days against a weak Arkansas secondary.
If he can stretch the Hogs defense early on and make some big plays, the slew of running backs for the Tigers will have plenty of space to gash Arkansas.
Run the Ball
With the depth and talent the Tigers have in their backfield, it would be stupid not to run the ball, especially against an Arkansas team that has had trouble stopping it.
The Razorbacks are a team that is not built to come from behind and win, so running the ball effectively and scoring points would put Arkansas in a tough position to try to come back with less time. The Tigers can also wear down the Razorback defense by constantly subbing in fresh legs and with their physical running style.
It's demoralizing to a team when it can't stop the ground game despite knowing what is coming. LSU needs to run the ball right at the Arkansas front seven with its four talented backs.
Arkansas Players to Watch
RB Alex Collins
The freshman has been a player to watch all season long and it's not any different this time around.
Collins needs just two yards to break the 1,000-yard mark in his first year. If he can rush for 116 against the Tigers, he will set the freshman rushing record at Arkansas, which is held by some guy named Darren McFadden.
He's had only 109 yards in his last two outings, but still averaged 5.5 YPC in those games. The LSU rush defense hasn't been as good as it usually is, ranking 36th nationally with 145.8 YPG allowed, but is still in the upper half of the FBS. Collins has been one of the few bright spots in 2013 and if Allen can at least be efficient enough to make the Tigers defense honest, the freshman could make history.
QB Brandon Allen
Man oh man, what a season it has been for Allen. That's not meant to be taken in a good way, either.
His accuracy has been among the worst in the country for starting quarterbacks, as he sits at No. 98 with a completion percentage of 47.6. To add to his struggles, he has made a lot of poor decisions, indicated by his nine interceptions compared to only 11 touchdowns.
Allen has been better the last two games, completing 57.6 percent of his attempts. However, LSU's pass defense is 18th in the country (202.9 YPG) and he has struggled big time against good secondaries. The Hogs have faced three SEC teams with pass defenses ranked in the top 20 and in those games, Allen has completed a mere 35.9 percent of his passes for 95.0 YPG with zero touchdowns and four interceptions.
A performance like that would more than take away the Hogs' already slim chances of pulling off the upset. Once again, Allen doesn't have to be Superman, but he does have to be efficient at managing the game or Arkansas is in for a long day.
In Arkansas' last game of 2013, keep an eye on this whole unit. As mentioned, it has been atrocious, ranking in the bottom half in just about every major statistical category.
It hasn't had a break really all season with the schedule and that isn't changing to end the year against LSU. What you want to see in this last game from the defense is a good, hard-fought effort. That means everyone tackling better, the front seven shedding off blocks and filling up running lanes and guys in the secondary playing up close and jamming receivers at the point of attack, as well as sticking to their man throughout his route.
The guys are going to have to match, or at least get close to matching, LSU's physicality. It would be nice to see an admirable performance on defense to end the year, but don't get your hopes up.
LSU Players to Watch
RB Jeremy Hill
Hill isn't your average size running back. As stated earlier, he has a 6'2", 235-pound frame and is a bruising runner.
What makes him so good though is that he has great speed for a back his size. Power and speed are always a good combination for a back to have. Hill is gaining 6.7 yards every time he carries the ball while bowling over defenders in his way. The bad news for Arkansas is that he is averaging 7.8 YPC at Tiger Stadium.
Hill has five 100-yard games this season and that's in 10 games, as he didn't play in the season opener vs. TCU. He's also 25th nationally in total rushing yards (1,040). It helps that he also has three other backs behind him that can rotate in and keep his legs fresh.
WRs Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry
Quarterbacks are always picked as players to watch, so instead of Mettenberger, keep an eye on virtually the only two guys he throws to.
Out of LSU's 180 pass completions on the year, Beckham and Landry have been on the receiving end of 123 of them. To further grasp just how much that is, the duo accounts for 68.3 percent of the Tigers' catches.
You'd think that would make it much easier for defenses because they know who Mettenberger is going to most likely be throwing to, but Beckham and Landry have combined for 2,160 yards and 18 touchdowns. Both are in the top 20 in the FBS in total receiving yards and will be a huge challenge for the Razorbacks secondary.
DE Jermauria Rasco
The Tigers always have a good defensive line and Jermauria Rasco has been a leader.
The junior leads the team with 4.0 sacks and is second with 6.0 tackles for loss. He's also very athletic, which is indicated by his three pass breakups and three passes defended, as well as his eight quarterback hurries.
There are a number of players on the LSU D-line that are more than capable of wreaking havoc in the backfield, but Rasco has been the most consistent. Arkansas' offensive line will have to be at the top of its game.
What They're Saying
The Associated Press, via the Washington Post, noted that LSU still has a lot to play for as far as what bowl game it can get a bid to:
The Tigers 34-10 victory over the Aggies last Saturday, in which they made Heisman Trophy quarterback Johnny Manziel look ordinary, kept alive LSU’s shot at 10 wins — if the Tigers beat Arkansas and win a bowl game.
LSU has been scouted by officials from the Cotton Bowl, the Capital One Bowl, the Gator Bowl and Outback Bowl, among others. LSU is also still technically alive — albeit as a longshot — for the Sugar Bowl, and officials from that bowl have requested credentials for Friday’s game.
Steven Muma of SB Nation talked about the meaning of the game for both teams:
The Razorbacks have lost 11 consecutive conference games dating back to last season, and they haven't won a game against anybody this season since September. Halting this streak of futility to cap an otherwise forgettable year would give the program some positive vibes to build on heading into the offseason.
A couple of close games didn't go LSU's way this year, leaving the Tigers out of the hunt for a league title. But with a win over Arkansas and a victory in their bowl game, the Tigers can reach double digit wins for the fourth straight season.
Arkansasnews.com wrote on the challenge LSU's receiving duo of Beckham and Landry will be for the Hogs:
Beckham Jr. has teamed with Jarvis Landry to form the SEC’s most productive receiving duo. The junior leads the Tigers in receiving yards (1,101) and ranks third in the SEC in receiving yards a game (100.1). He also has topped the 100-yard mark in team-best five games and is averaging a school-best 19.7 yards a catch. The veteran is a dangerous return man, too, who is second in the nation in all-purpose yards (197.7 yards). He’s averaging 20.9 every time he touches the ball, which means Collins and the Arkansas secondary will have their hands full this afternoon.
Simply put, LSU is just too good for a bad Arkansas team to beat.
The Tigers offense has weapons at every skill position that could and should give the Arkansas defense problems all game long. The biggest intangible is that the game is in Death Valley, which is already tough enough for the best teams in the country to win at.
Allen has been much better the last two games, but this LSU defense is no joke and he's been mediocre against good defenses.
What has been a miserable season for the Hogs is going to end that way barring a miracle. Once it's all said and done, the Razorbacks are going to have a ton of issues to address in the offseason. They are going have to make some major improvements during the offseason to avoid another disaster like 2013.
LSU 42, Arkansas 14
For more information on the Arkansas Razorbacks, follow Bryan Heater @BHeaterRivals.
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