All eyes will be on Baton Rouge this Friday afternoon as the No. 3 Arkansas Razorbacks take on the No. 1 LSU Tigers.
It is hard not to get wrapped up in the mess that is the BCS, particularly if you are an Arkansas fan and hearing ESPN's Brad Edwards say that a win over the No. 1 team in the country could still have the Hogs sitting at No. 3, so let's focus on the game instead and look at some keys to victory if the Razorbacks are going to pull off the upset.
The death of Arkansas tight end Garrett Uekman this weekend has reminded us all that football is only a game and that there are more important things in life.
For Arkansas football players, last Sunday turned from a day of celebration to a day of mourning. Monday night a candle-light vigil was held on the Arkansas campus in Uekman's memory.
Dealing with grief can be a draining experience and one that makes focusing on everyday life a challenge. The Hogs will have to manage these emotions if they are going to compete on Friday.
This would normally be a week where Bobby Petrino and his staff would be riding their team hard in preparation for such a big game, but under the circumstances they will have will have to ease up a little bit. It will be up to the leaders of this team such as Jarius Wright, Jake Bequette, Knile Davis and Tyler Wilson to make sure that players focus and take care of business this week.
Protecting Tyler Wilson
The Arkansas offense has proven almost impossible to stop this season when Tyler Wilson is allowed to sit back in the pocket and find receivers. In spite of being under duress for much of the season, the Alabama game is the only contest in which Wilson and the Arkansas offense were unable to get going.
The LSU defense is every bit as good as the 'Bama defense—if not a little bit better. The Arkansas offensive line, which has grown up and improved greatly over the season, will have to give Wilson time and keep him upright for the Hogs to have a chance.
Look for the Hogs to utilize their quick passing game and establish the run in an effort to slow the LSU pass-rush.
Dennis Johnson Must Continue To Produce
One of the keys to protecting Tyler Wilson will be be the Razorbacks' ability to establish balance between the running and passing game.
With the emergence of Dennis Johnson, who averages almost seven yards per carry, the Arkansas offense has been able find this balance over the last several games. I still hear pundits on TV talk about how Arkansas can't run the ball, and you have to wonder if they've seen a Razorback game since Alabama.
The Hogs' running game was atrocious against the Tide, but Dennis Johsnon has taken over the majority of running duties for the Razorbacks since that time. Johnson is also a good blocker and dangerous receiver out of the backfield.
Look for Arkansas to use Dennis Johnson as well as Ronnie Wingo Jr. catching passes out of the backfield. Both are extremely dangerous in space.
Hogs Can't Turn the Ball Over
If there is one statistic that I believe will decide the game, this is it. LSU leads the nation in turnover margin and have been able to keep pressure off of its offense by scoring points on that side of the ball.
While Tyler Wilson doesn't make many mistakes, when he does it's usually a big one. Wilson has thrown only five interceptions this season, but three of those were returned for touchdowns, and he has had several fumbles because he failed to feel the backside pressure.
The Hogs will have a good chance in this game if they can win or even tie LSU in the turnover battle and not give up any points to the Tigers defense.
Hogs Defense vs. Tigers Offense
This is a game that pits one of the best offenses in the nation against one of the best defenses in the country, but I believe that it will be the other side of the ball that decides this game.
With the return from injury of defensive ends Tenarius Wright and Jake Bequette, the Arkansas defense has been dominant over the last three games. Byron Jones and Robert Thomas have been winning at the point of attack, and Jerry Franklin has been his normal tackling-machine self.
The goal for Arkansas will be to stop the LSU run game and force Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee to win the game through the air. If LSU can run the ball and keep the Razorback offense on the sideline for extended periods of time, it could be long night for the Razorbacks.
I believe both teams will find it difficult to score points in this game, so it will come down to points off turnovers and special teams.
LSU is always rock solid on special teams, but I believe a slight edge goes to the Razorbacks, who have the most dangerous return game in the nation to go with solid kicking. The LSU defense has the edge on the Arkansas offense, but the Razorbacks defense should have the advantage over the LSU offense.
LSU has clearly been the best team in football in spite of what Alabama fans seem to believe, but I believe the Hogs will go in to Baton Rouge and come away with the win this Friday on the strength of defense and special teams.
Arkansas 24, LSU 21