We’d like to say there’s a trophy on the line (a Golden Boot, for instance) in this week’s Pick 6. Unfortunately, LSU and Arkansas are the only ones playing for a prize.
Bob Holt, a Razorbacks beat writer for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was still gracious enough to join us for this week’s Q&A. You can follow Bob on Twitter @BobHoltADG and read his work here.
1. Arkansas has been an…interesting team this season. After a 1-3 start and some non-conference losses, how have the Razorbacks bounced back for three straight wins?
You’ve got to give Coach Bret Bielema and his assistants a lot of credit for holding the team together during the rough start.
I think it’s a strength of Bielema’s — getting the team to continue to believe and practice well and play hard — considering how Arkansas went 3-1 in its last four games last season to finish 7-6 and even played well late in 2013 despite a nine-game losing streak.
The Razorbacks had a lot of injuries early — especially on offense — and I think it also took some time for new offensive coordinator Dan Enos to get adjusted to having some different go-to guys, but now that some have emerged (WRs Drew Morgan and Dominique Reed in particular) things are really clicking.
2. Despite their 3-2 Southeastern Conference record, the Razorbacks have played all their league opponents close this year and won two of the three overtime games they forced. Where is this team’s confidence level at now that it’s fresh off a road win against a ranked opponent and has a bowl berth within its grasp?
I think the Razorbacks are playing with a lot of confidence right now. When they lost to Toledo 16-12 and to Texas A&M 28-21 in overtime early this season, it dropped Arkansas to 0-9 under Bielema in games decided by seven or fewer points, but since then they’ve won 24-20 at Tennessee (also their first road win under Bielema) and beaten Auburn 54-46 in four overtimes and won at Ole Miss 53-52 in overtime. The Hogs obviously learned how to finish and win the close ones.
3. The Hogs really stuck it to LSU last year. What was Arkansas’ formula for winning that game, and is it one that can be replicated this year?
A lot of things were working in Arkansas’ favor for that game. The Razorbacks were coming off an open date and primed to break their 17-game SEC losing streak after having so many close calls that season. LSU was coming off an emotionally and physically draining overtime loss to Alabama.
It was about 30 degrees at kickoff and felt colder. LSU didn’t seem to want to be there, while the Razorbacks — and their fans — were having fun. Hog offensive lineman Sebastian Tretola was even on the field before kickoff in a T-shirt and shorts, his way of saying the weather wouldn’t bother the Hogs.
As I recall, the Tigers’ offensive line was pretty beat up, and Arkansas’ defense was really starting to play well. The Hogs shut down Leonard Fournette and forced LSU to pass, and Anthony Jennings struggled quite a bit.
Replicating those circumstances — especially the weather — Saturday night will be impossible for the Hogs. I figure LSU will feed off its crowd, and Arkansas lost a lot of players from its defense and has struggled to get off the field in recent games. I don’t see any way the Hogs shut down Fournette again, but they’re a lot better at playing the run than the pass, so facing a power rushing team like LSU may be a plus.
4. Arkansas and Bielema have a reputation for running the football, but quarterback Brandon Allen is first in the SEC in passing efficiency and second in passing yards per game. How has he developed into one of the conference’s leading passers?
I think Brandon Allen has gradually improved throughout his career, but this season he’s really made a quantum leap.
Part of it is that he’s a fifth-year senior who as a three-year starter in the SEC has seen about everything opposing defenses can throw at him. I think he’s also benefited from Enos — a former Central Michigan head coach and Michigan State assistant and quarterback — coaching him.
Even with the injuries to players such as tailback Jonathan Williams
and receiver Keon Hatcher, I believe Allen also has benefitted from a good supporting cast. As previously mentioned, receivers Morgan and Reed really have played well, the Hogs have elite tight ends in Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle and tailback Alex Collins is having a big year.
Arkansas’ massive offensive line, with four starters back, also has done a good job of protection.
5. LSU quarterback Brandon Harris’ performance against Alabama was subpar considering his emergence in late October. That game aside, how big of a threat does Harris pose to the Razorbacks’ secondary, which ranks at the bottom of the league in passing yards allowed per game and opponent completion percentage?
Arkansas has struggled to stop most every quarterback it has faced — Tennessee-Martin’s Jarod Neal completed 30 of 43 passed for 380 yards and Chad Kelly looked like Archie Manning last week — so Harris certainly figures to be threat.
The Razorbacks have only eight sacks, so getting pressure on the quarterback has been a major problem, too.
6. No matter what these two teams look like on paper, their meetings are almost always tightly contested. Why do you think that is, and do you expect this year’s edition to shake out that way?
It’s been a weird series in that some LSU teams that seemed to have no business winning — such as when Curley Hallman was coaching his last game and Hal Hunter was the interim coach for Gerry DiNardo — beat the Hogs and some Arkansas teams you wouldn’t figure would win have pulled upsets or pushed the Tigers to the limit.
When the teams played their regular-season finale against each other, there often was a lot on the line for both, so maybe that had something to do with the competitiveness.There also have been some times when I think the game simply meant more to the Razorbacks.
That Golden Boot — the brainchild of former Hog linebacker David Bazzel — is big for the Hogs. They have it displayed prominently outside of their locker room. I remember one time I was at LSU for a basketball game and stopped by the athletic department and The Golden Boot was being used as a doorstop.
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