The Razorbacks travel to Death Valley for a shot at the BCS National Championship.
The previous 2011 “game of the century” between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama will be an afterthought Friday night when No. 3 Arkansas travels to Death Valley to take on No. 1 LSU. In a season full of upsets, the Razorbacks look to add one more team to the list.
Arkansas vs. LSU has quietly become one of the best SEC rivalry games and one of the best throughout college football. Since 2005 Arkansas and LSU have split their series 3-3. 21 total points separates the winning team from the losing team, with Arkansas having the largest winning margin, winning by 8 points in 2010 in Little Rock, Arkansas. That’s a 3.5 average margin of victory between the two schools.
This year’s winner not only receives the Golden Boot trophy but should end up in the BCS National Title Game. Thankfully, CBS put this game back on the schedule the Friday after Thanksgiving before a college football hungry crowd.
The following article details how and why the Hogs will beat the Tigers.
Bobby Petrino owns a 2-1 winning record over Les Miles.
Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino has defeated Les Miles two out of the three times they have faced each other as head coaches in the SEC. In 2010, No. 12 Arkansas beat No. 6 LSU 31-23,. In 2009, No. 17 LSU beat unranked Arkansas 33-30 in overtime, and in 2008, Arkansas beat LSU 31-30.
Les Miles may have a BCS National Championship trophy on his mantle but after Friday’s Razorback win over the Tigers, so will Petrino.
Arkansas' defense has steadily improved throughout the season.
In 2010, the Razorbacks finished the season ranked 36th in total defense. The Razorbacks’ defensive play started out poorly in 2011. Arkansas gave up 397 total yards of offense to Alabama in Week 4 and 628 total yards to Texas A&M in Week 5.
Since their early season troubles, the Hogs have slowly started to dominate their opponents on defense. The Hogs’ defense is currently ranked 44th in total defense.
The turnaround in play is due to the return of healthy players on defense. The Hogs were without both starting defensive ends, Jake Bequette and Tank Wright, and both starting cornerbacks, Darius Winston and Isaac Madison, for several games during the heart of their midseason schedule.
With the starters returning to action, Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson has been able to develop more depth on the team but more importantly start calling stunts and blitzes again. The base 4-3 defense the Hogs had to run was putting very little pressure on the opposing quarterbacks.
Dennis Johnson has carried the Arkansas running game since his return from injury.
When breaking in three new starters along any college football team’s offensive line it will take time before the players gel. The amount of time for the entire line to gel may take longer when two true freshmen, a junior college transfer, two sophomores, and two seniors are learning to play together for the first time.
Offensive line coach Chris Klenakis has progressively done a solid job of getting these guys ready to play week after week. Early season run blocking woes have subsided with the return of running backs Dennis Johnson and Broderick Green from injury.
Johnson, a junior, missed all of 2010 with a bowel injury and started the 2011 season with a hamstring injury. Johnson was slow to get back to full health but by the seventh game of the season he had a season high 15 rushing attempts for 160 yards. Over the past five games, Johnson has averaged 98.6 rushing yards per game.
Johnson is only 44 total rushing yards behind LSU’s leading rusher Spencer Ware and 19 rushing yards behind LSU’s second leading rusher Michael Ford on the year.
Senior running back Broderick Green was thought to be lost for the entire 2011 season after tearing his ACL in spring practices. Green returned for the Texas A&M game to provide depth and power running for the Hogs on short yardage and goal line plays. Green has five rushing touchdowns in the six games he has played in this year.
Is LSU's defense really that good?
LSU was among the top defensive teams in the nation during the 2010 season finishing 12th in total defense. 2011 has been an even better statistical year for LSU’s second ranked defense in total yards allowed per game. But is LSU’s defense really better than last year’s?
The loss of lock-down cornerback Patrick Peterson was thought to be difficult to replace along with his abilities as a kickoff and punt returner. Middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard was a beast for LSU in 2010 totaling 116 tackles. Who has replaced these leaders on defense?
LSU’s leading tacklers are safeties Brandon Taylor and Eric Reid with 61 and 58 tackles, respectively. It’s not unusual for a safety to lead a defense in tackles but it is preferred that your linebackers make stops before the running back gets to “the defense’s next level."
Junior cornerback Morris Claiborne has continued to play well in Peterson’s absence. Claiborne led the Tigers in interceptions in 2010 with five and has four this year.
No one has replaced Peterson’s special teams play on punt returns. Tyrann Mathieu leads the Tigers with 186 return yards with no punt returns for a touchdown.
Another note about LSU’s defense is the skewed statistics they have tallied this season. In games against Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, and Ole Miss the Tigers were facing either the worse offensive units in the SEC or a backup quarterback.
Also, last year was a stellar year for offensive players in the SEC. There’s an impressive list of offensive SEC players that are gone to the NFL or injured this season. The list includes: Ryan Mallett, Cam Newton, Darvin Adams, Marcus Lattimore, Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Mike Hartline, Derrick Locke, Knile Davis, Randall Cobb, and A.J. Green. Without these players in the SEC, it seems easier for teams to rack up stronger defensive numbers than in 2010.
Jarius Wright leads the SEC in receiving yards.
Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson leads the SEC in passing yards with 3,215 total yards. Jarrett Lee is seventh in the SEC with 1,306 total passing yards.
Arkansas’ senior receiver Jarius Wright is tied for the lead the SEC in receiving yards with 1,002 yards despite missing one game this season. LSU’s leading receiver is Ruben Randle with 755 yards.
Arkansas’ second leading receiver is Joe Adams with 595 total receiving yards. LSU’s second leading receiver is Odell Beckham with 410 total yards, 47 total receiving yards behind Arkansas’ tight end Chris Gragg and 31 total receiving yards behind the Hogs’ third leading wide receiver Cobi Hamilton.
LSU’s Spencer Ware has 650 total rushing yards to Dennis Johnson’s 606. Johnson has a 6.7 yard per carry average to Ware’s 4.1. Ware has also carried the ball 160 times; Johnson only has 91 rushing attempts on the season.
LSU is primed for an upset.
LSU’s team confidence seems to be at an all time high, and rightfully so. They are the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation with quality wins over Oregon and Alabama.
LSU is battle tested after playing six ranked teams with two of those teams being Top 10 teams at the time of the game, but so are the Razorbacks.
Arkansas has played four ranked teams this season with two of those teams being in the Top 10. Mississippi State was ranked at the time LSU played the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs were not ranked at the time Arkansas played them.
Three of the ranked teams LSU beat are no longer ranked.
Garrett Uekman's presence with the Razorbacks will be missed.
After Arkansas took care of Mississippi State Saturday in Little Rock 44-17, the team was shocked to find out that their teammate Garrett Uekman had passed away Sunday. The sudden death of the 19-year-old redshirt freshman tight end will undoubtedly have a dramatic affect on the team entering the LSU game.
Not that the Razorbacks need extra motivation for their game against the Tigers with a possible BCS National Title Game berth on the line, but the opportunity to rally around a fallen player can prove to be an emotional and powerful tool for any team looking for a motivational edge.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith threw for 463 yards against the Tigers.
LSU has not faced a passing offense like Arkansas’ this season. How well do the Tigers’ defense respond to offensive minded teams?
Oregon’s offense outgained LSU’s 335 to 273. The Ducks also ran 12 more plays than the Tigers and had a 4.1 yard per play average to the Tiger’s 3.9. Darron Thomas threw for 240 yards with one touchdown and one interception against LSU.
West Virginia’s quarterback Geno Smith threw for 463 yards against the mighty Tiger defense. Smith finished the game 38 of 65 with two touchdowns and two picks. The Mountaineers outgained LSU 533 to 366.
Oregon and West Virginia both lost the turnover battle against the Tigers. The Ducks fumbled three times losing all three times while the Mountaineers also fumbled three times losing the ball twice. LSU intercepted Oregon once and WVU twice.
LSU did not throw an interception against either team.
Even “run first” Alabama not only outgained LSU’s passing attack, throwing for 199 yard to LSU’s 91 total passing yards, but more importantly had success against their secondary.
One can argue that LSU’s bend but don’t break defense works. One can also argue that LSU has been lucky and, to their benefit, opportunistic at the right time.
Arkansas has the 10th best passing offense in college football with pass-catching ability at wide receiver, tight end, and running back. Arkansas has better a better talent level and overall team speed that LSU has not faced in 2011. In 2010, Arkansas gave this same LSU defense trouble as the Hogs finished with 320 yards passing with three touchdowns.
The Hogs look to limit LSU's running attack on Friday.
Many fans may forget that the Hogs experimented with a 5-2 defense against early season foes and in fall practices. The thought was the Razorbacks could stop Alabama’s rushing attack with a 5-2 defensive front. The 5-2 defense was not put into use against the Tide as both of Arkansas’ starting defensive ends did not play a full game against Bama.
The Razorbacks have their starters back and depth along the defensive front. Look for the Hogs to use the 5-2 defense against the Tigers to slow down their running game making LSU one-dimensional. The Hogs would love for Jordan Jefferson or Jarrett Lee to try to beat them with their arm.
Arkansas has been slow to stop the opposition’s quarterbacks from running at times during the season. Using a 5-2 defense will help keep Jefferson contained and limit running opportunities throughout the game, as well.
Can Tyler Wilson lead the Hogs to the BCS National Championship Game?
The last Arkansas Razorback National Championship in football came in 1964. The Hogs have been a couple of games away a time or two in the past but have not been this close to playing for the national championship since 2006.
The SEC has won five straight BCS National Championships with three of those wins coming from their SEC West counterparts: Florida in 2007, LSU in 2008, Florida in 2009, Alabama in 2010, and Auburn in 2011. Arkansas would like to add the sixth straight title to the SEC’s run.