LSU’s talent and depth in the secondary have been an important part of the top-ranked Tigers’ defensive success this season, and that area will be tested by Arkansas on Friday afternoon in Tiger Stadium.
The third-ranked Razorbacks have the top-rated passing game in the Southeastern Conference and one of the most talented and deepest receiving corps in the country.
Jarius Wright leads the SEC in receptions per game (6.1) and receiving yards per game (100.2), and his 10 touchdowns are tops among receivers in the conference and second only to Alabama running back Trent Richardson’s 22.
Joe Adams is fourth in receptions per game (4.2) and Chris Gragg is tied for sixth (3.5). Tyler Wilson has made good use of his variety of targets and leads the conference in passing yards per game (292.3).
Wright is Arkansas’ leader in career pass receptions (163), and Adams is just seven behind him.
“They have a competition going on about who has the most receptions in Arkansas history,” LSU safety Brandon Taylor said. “So they’re playing tremendous football, and they show up every week and make big plays.”
The Tigers might have to go deeper into their secondary than normal. Starting free safety Eric Reid was sidelined by a thigh injury during the 52-3 victory at Ole Miss on Saturday, and backup safety Craig Loston has been sidelined by a wrist injury.
“We think Loston and Reid will both be ready,” Tigers coach Les Miles said. “Reid is a little bit more questionable. Things have gone well for him, and we expect him back for play.”
Senior Derrick Bryant and freshman Ronald Martin both filled in against the Rebels.
“Bryant is a veteran, and Martin played well enough Saturday to expect some reps,” Miles said. “(Martin) is a guy that continues to improve. We’ve put him in a position to play, learn and take reps in practice. He has continued to get better. We’re wanting him to have the opportunity to step onto the field, play and give us significant snaps as we move forward.”
Enough was enough
Miles came under some criticism from network analysts for his decision to have quarterback Zach Mettenberger kneel down four times near the Ole Miss goal line rather than try to score a touchdown with LSU leading 52-3 late in the fourth quarter last Saturday.
“That position down there pretty tight did not allow us to just run plays,” Miles said. “The need then to make a decision of ‘Do we want to score this touchdown or not’ was imminent on the 1-yard line. We took a timeout to not take a 5-yard penalty. We then sat on it. We had victory and frankly did not need to make that point anymore.”
Though some critics said the Tigers appearing to take pity on the soon-to-be 2-9 Rebels and lame duck coach Houston Nutt was insulting, Miles felt the opposite.
“We really enjoyed the competition with Ole Miss and Houston Nutt,” he said. “The game was decided, and I felt enough was enough. I only have one decision to make, and that is for my team. I am not going to give great thought to how other people see it. For me, that was the right call.”
Style yields big margins
LSU has tied a school record by scoring at least 40 points in seven games this season, matching the total of the 2007 team. The Tigers’ average margin of victory is 28 points, and they set a school record by winning each of their first eight games by at least 10 points. In five home games, LSU has won by an average margin of 34.4 points.
“I think that we play the style of football that if we do what we are capable of, it makes it very difficult on our opponents,” Miles said. “We move the ball efficiently without turnovers. Our defense does not allow an opponent to go down the field routinely. They get turnovers.”
The Tigers lead the nation in turnover margin (plus-1.64 per game) and their six turnovers are the fewest in the country.
Signal-callers still silent
Miles’ moratorium on interviews with quarterbacks Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee is in its third week and counting. Neither has been made available to reporters since Jefferson supplanted Lee as the primary signal-caller during the second half of the 9-6 overtime victory at Alabama on Nov. 5. Jefferson has talked with reporters just once since his arrest in mid-August in connection with a bar fight.
“I really have given thought to only allowing them to be comfortable in their competition, and relax and not have to deal with the scrutiny of the perimeter,” Miles said. “I really just want them to plan to handle the plays that are called and enjoy the back end of their senior year. I’m sure there will be plenty of time for them to talk later in the season. Right now, I just want them to focus on the games.”