The next level
LSU’s back-to-back losses to Arkansas featured different kinds of problems.
The Tigers couldn’t move the ball during their 17-0 defeat in icy Fayetteville in 2014. They couldn’t prevent the big play during a 31-14 home loss last season.
There was a common dominator in each: the Razorbacks' tight ends.
Arkansas’ tight ends caught 12 passes for 128 yards in those two wins, a fact not overlooked by interim coach Ed Orgeron.
“The tight ends run-block well, and they use them in the passing game fantastic,” Orgeron said Monday.
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Dan Enos run a pro-style system that uses their tight ends in a variety of ways. They block on the edge. They are positioned out wide, at times, as receivers. They run in motion before the snap. They are decoys on short crossing routes, sucking down a safety to expose the center of the field for the long ball.
And, of course, they catch touchdown passes.
Jeremy Sprinkle is the only Arkansas tight end still on the team who played against LSU the past two years. He has four touchdown catches this year.
His 23 receptions are just three behind LSU’s top receiver, Malachi Dupre, and his 266 receiving yards would rank third on LSU. No Tigers receiver has as many scores as Sprinkle, a 6-foot-6, 255-pound senior. Arthur Cantrell, a burly, 6-4, 270-pounder, has more receptions (nine) than LSU’s top tight end (Colin Jeter with six).
So which LSU defenders are responsible for covering the tight end? It depends. Many times it’s an outside linebacker like Arden Key. Defensive end Lewis Neal is responsible at times, and the nickelback, Dwayne Thomas or Tre’Davious White, has that duty on certain plays.
Arkansas joins Wisconsin as the only true pro-style offenses LSU has faced this year. That means defensive coordinator Dave Aranda will play more 3-4 base defense, Orgeron said, resulting in more playing time for the team’s fourth linebacker, Tashawn Bower, and his backup, Michael Divinity.
"You wished you played those teams more because you want to play more and be out there with your teammates, but at the end of the day, it’s about executing with your team," Bower said. "It’s not, ‘Let me try to get out there at a different position or something just because I want to be out there.’ It’s about what’s the best scheme for this team in order to win."
Matchups to watch
LSU's offensive line vs. Arkansas' defensive line
Arkansas ranks 91st nationally in rushing yards allowed at nearly 200 per game. The Hogs gave up a whopping 543 yards on the ground in a 56-3 loss at Auburn. This seems like the perfect opponent for LSU’s offensive line to rebound from its poor showing against top-ranked Alabama last week. This game, like that one, is all about the trenches.
LSU's linebackers vs. Arkansas' run game
The Hogs employ a power run game out of a pro-style scheme. (Think Wisconsin.) LSU linebackers Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith are key to shutting down a rushing attack that averages 167 yards per game. Beckwith and Riley must plug holes, hit gaps and bottle up Arkansas RBs Rawleigh Williams (955 yards) and Devwah Whaley (383).
LSU: Keep an eye on No. 16, QB Danny Etling
Etling gets his second road test with LSU, and it follows one of his worst games. Two keys for Etling in what should be a loud, rocking environment: Control communication and succeed on third down. He was 4 for 9 on third down against Alabama and was sacked three times.
Arkansas: Keep an eye on No. 8, QB Austin Allen
Many say Allen is ahead of where his brother Brandon was as a junior. The Fayetteville native has connected on 61 percent of his passes, throwing 19 TDs with eight interceptions. He has been sacked 22 times —2.44 times per game. That ranks 89th nationally.
Scott Rabalais' Four Downs
1. ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT
Two straight years now, the Tigers have allowed a gut-wrenching loss to Alabama to be compounded by a rout the following week against Arkansas — 17-0 in Fayetteville in 2014, 31-14 in Tiger Stadium last season. The Tigers must find the self-motivation to win in a hostile environment, now that season’s lofty goals have been stripped away.
2. BAND ON THE RUN
LSU managed to scrounge for just 33 net rushing yards against Alabama, while Arkansas allowed Florida just 12 yards on the ground last week. But Arkansas still ranks as one of the worst rushing teams in the SEC (12th, allowing 198.4 ypg). The Tigers will have to exploit that weakness if they hope to escape Fayetteville with a win.
3. DYNAMIC DUO
Arkansas leads the FBS in time of possession at 35 minutes, 45 seconds per game. The Tigers need to flip that stat, keeping the ball away from QB Austin Allen and RB Rawleigh Williams. Allen averages 254.6 passing yards and Williams 106.1 rushing yards, one of five duos in the "Power Five" conferences to average more than 250 and 100.
4. TIGHTEN UP
Two years ago, the Razorbacks shredded the Tigers with nine passes to their tight ends for 107 yards. LSU looked vulnerable against the tight end vs. Wisconsin but has done an impressive job of late against Ole Miss’ Evan Engram and Bama’s O.J. Howard (four total catches for 12 yards). The Tigers need to continue that trend Saturday.
Numbers worth knowing
TDs per game allowed by LSU, tops in the FBS
10 of 16
Scoreless quarters by LSU's defense under Orgeron
Arkansas' average time of possession, tops in the FBS
Rushing yards per game allowed by Arkansas (91st in the FBS)
Week 11 bowl projections
Colin Becht, SI.com
Outback vs. Minnesota
Bill Bender, The Sporting News
Citrus vs. Penn State
Citrus vs. Virginia Tech
Jason Kirk, SBNation.com
Outback vs. Nebraska
Stewart Mandel, FoxSports.com
Texas vs. Texas
Brett McMurphy, ESPN.com
TaxSlayer vs. North Carolina
Jerry Palm, CBSSports.com
Liberty vs. Baylor
Alex Scarborough and David Hale, ESPN.com
TaxSlayer vs. Florida State
Mark Schlabach, ESPN.com
Belk vs. North Carolina
Alex Shirkey, SECCountry.com
Texas vs. TCU
Texas Bowl: Dec. 28, Houston
Belk Bowl: Dec. 29, Charlotte, N.C.
Citrus Bowl: Dec. 31, Orlando, Fla.
Liberty Bowl: Dec. 30, Memphis, Tenn.
TaxSlayer Bowl: Dec. 31, Jacksonville, Fla.
Outback Bowl: Jan. 2, Tampa, Fla.
Five memorable games: LSU vs. Arkansas
LSU and Arkansas were border rivals long before the Razorbacks joined the Southeastern Conference in 1992. Here's a look back at five memorable games in this long and colorful series:
Jan. 1, 1947: LSU 0, Arkansas 0
Hall of Famer quarterback Y.A. Tittle recalls this Cotton Bowl as the coldest game he ever played. Rain, sleet and snow leave fans shivering in the stands in Dallas. LSU piles up a 271-54 edge in total offense and a 15-1 edge in first downs but can’t manage to score in a game that becomes known as the Ice Bowl.
Jan. 1, 1966: LSU 14, Arkansas 7
The Razorbacks are ranked No. 2 and riding a 22-game winning streak going into this Cotton Bowl, but a 7-3 Tigers team pulls off what ranks as one of the program’s all-time greatest upsets. Joe Labruzzo scores on a pair of 1-yard runs, and Jerry Joseph’s fourth-quarter interception denies Arkansas a national title.
Nov. 29, 2002: Arkansas 21, LSU 20
The year of the Bluegrass Miracle for the Tigers is also the year of the Markham Street Miracle for the Razorbacks. Trailing 20-14, Matt Jones hits Richard Smith for a 50-yard gain, then finds DeCori Birmingham in the back of the end zone on a 31-yard TD pass with 9 seconds remaining. The win propels Arkansas, not LSU, to the SEC title game.
Nov. 24, 2006: LSU 31, Arkansas 26
Darren McFadden scores on an 80-yard run to pull Arkansas within 24-19, but Trindon Holliday returns the ensuing kickoff 92 yards for a score. Felix Jones added another TD for Arkansas, but LSU’s defense holds from there, allowing the Tigers to run out the final 1:31. Arkansas finishes first in the SEC West, but LSU winds up in the Sugar Bowl against Notre Dame.
Nov. 23, 2007: Arkansas 50, LSU 48 (3OT)
Working out of the “Wild Hog” formation, McFadden leads the Razorbacks to an upset of No. 1 LSU in Tiger Stadium. He rushes for 206 yards and three TDs and throws for a fourth score. Matterral Richardson intercepts Matt Flynn’s two-point pass in the third overtime, but the Tigers bounce back to win the SEC championship and their second BCS national title.