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Arkansas vs. LSU Preview

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Can the Hogs ruin a rival’s season?

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

It’s spoiler season in Fayetteville, again. With the Hogs’ own season in the toilet, it’s now time to try and ruin someone else’s.

Next up: LSU. This feels eerily like a repeat of the setup in 2014: coach that’s come so close looking for his first SEC win, LSU coming off a tough loss to Alabama, Arkansas coming off an open week, and a very cold forecast in Fayetteville. The Hogs won that one 17-0. Can history repeat itself?

Maybe not. That 2014 Arkansas team was much better than this one. And that 2014 LSU team was probably a little worse than this one. But an upset is not out of the question.

When LSU has the ball

And here’s why.

The Tigers are frankly lucky to be ranked 7th in the country with this kind of offense. They struggle to run the ball and protect their quarterback, and are pitiful in must-pass situations. The occasional big play — mostly via the run but sometimes via play-action — is what keeps them chugging along. That and minimizing turnovers, which they are very good at.

Running Backs

  • Nick Brossette, 158 rushes, 702 yards, 4.4 average, -4.6% marginal efficiency
  • Clyde Edwards-Helaire, 111 rushes, 535 yards, 4.8 average, -2.0% marginal efficiency

Edwards-Helaire has a little bit of pop, but neither of these can consistently generate good runs. Nearly half of these two backs’ runs gain zero, one, or two yards. About 21% of runs are for no gain or a loss, which is pretty high. LSU will generate yards through sheer volume, but if the Hogs let these two run wild, it will be a bad sign.

Quarterback

  • Joe Burrow, 53.5% completions, 1,728 yards, 6 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 5.7 yards per attempt

Burrow briefly became a hero when he guided the Tigers to big wins over Miami and Auburn. But those wins don’t look as good now, and Burrow’s numbers haven’t been good at any point this year. In Tiger wins, he’s been clutch: bad stats, but the right plays at the right times. Unfortunately for LSU, that’s not a statistically-reliable trend, and sure enough, he threw two critical interceptions in a loss at Florida and then struggled all game against Alabama. He can sometimes hit big throws on early downs, but the Tigers are a dismal 115th in success rate on passing downs.

Receivers

  • Justin Jefferson, 62 targets, 552 yards, 8.9 yards per target
  • Stephen Sullivan, 31 targets, 184 yards, 5.9 yards per target
  • Dee Anderson, 28 targets, 215 yards, 7.7 yards per target
  • Derrick Dillon, 25 targets, 149 yards, 6.0 yards per target

Jefferson is by far the most dangerous target LSU has. If he has a big game, Arkansas doesn’t stand much of a chance. But if he can be limited, the Tigers have struggled to get their other options going. The goal seems to be utilize the mismatches that Sullivan (6’7, 232) and Anderson (6’6, 229) provide, but as the numbers bear out, neither is very efficient. The Hogs might be able to counter this, since nickelback D’Vone McClure (6’2, 215) is pretty big for a slot defender and may can hang with whoever he’s matched up with.

When Arkansas has the ball

The Tigers’ defense isn’t as dominating as in some years past, like Dave Aranda’s 2016 unit, or John Chavis’ in 2011. It’s still pretty good, combining the tried-and-true formula of limiting big plays and getting third down stops. The run defense is occasionally faulty, and the Tigers don’t have a dominating pass rush.

Passing on LSU is going to be tough. The safety combo of Grant Delpit and John Battle is among the nation’s best, and cornerbacks Greedy Williams and Kristian Fulton shouldn’t have much trouble limiting Arkansas’ receivers, who already struggle to get separation.

Running the ball is a different story. LSU’s defensive front isn’t as active as Arkansas’, so linebacker Devin White is the guy that has to make all the tackles, usually after a few yards are gained. LSU’s starting defensive line has combined for seven sacks (Arkansas: 14), and that’s if you count OLB Michael Divinity as the fourth lineman in LSU’s 3-4 scheme. This lack of disruption means LSU is heavily dependent on its secondary to slow down opposing offenses... not that that’s been a problem.

Keys to the game

  1. Find running lanes. I don’t expect the Hogs to have much success through the air, but the Tigers are beatable on the ground. Rakeem Boyd needs to average five yards per carry, and Chase Hayden needs to provide valuable snaps in relief.
  2. Pressure the quarterback. Burrow is only a so-so quarterback, and Alabama had little trouble pressuring him and keeping LSU from getting anything downfield. I’m not sure the Hogs can get enough stops if Burrow has all day to throw.
  3. Get creative and have fun. Seven losses are already on the board. The focus is now getting something positive for next year. I’d love to see the Hogs debut some ideas they cooked up in the open week. And please, please, please do not punt from inside the LSU 40. Please.