It’s been a pretty incredible week to be a Hog fan. The Henry Heave, Da-Swine Intervention, whatever you want to call that wild 4th-and-25 play, it has reinvigorated the Razorback fan base and restored a lot of hope and faith that was lost over a three-week span in September when the Razorbacks struggled through consecutive losses to Toledo, Texas Tech and Texas A&M.
I hesitate to even mention those losses, and I’m definitely not trying to kill anyone’s buzz. I only bring them up to point out how far the Razorbacks have come since digging that deep hole early in the season.
The amazing 53-52 overtime victory over Ole Miss not only lifted the collective spirits of the state, but it also nudged the Razorbacks (5-4, 3-2 SEC) over .500 for the first time since Sept. 12 going into Saturday’s 6:15 p.m. matchup with the No. 9 LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge, La.
Generally when a team is headed for an ESPN-televised nighttime date with the Tigers in Death Valley, fans are a bit hesitant. The Tigers (7-1, 4-1) do have a 48-5 record in home night games during Les Miles’ tenure as coach. Normally a fact like that would bring out the naysayers in any fan base, but all has seemed positive on the Razorback front this week. Even LSU being favored by nine points hasn’t dimmed the optimism.
It’s a nice respite for Hog fans who have been embattled all too often over the last decade. It would be great to declare that head coach Bret Bielema had finally negotiated the proverbial “corner” we all always talk about, but reality is that no one victory going to push the Razorbacks over the top. The Hogs have been in a constant struggle to be “relevant” in football since joining the SEC, and that’s not going to change. It’s the nature of the league, but it’s also why any SEC win — even a very fortunate victory like last week’s — is significant and worth celebrating.
Obviously, the odds are against the Hogs going into Saturday’s contest. LSU should win. Despite their demoralizing 30-16 loss to Alabama last week, the Tigers have played some of the best football of the 2015 season with Heisman frontrunner Leonard Fournette leading the way. Forget that Alabama held him to 31 yards on 19 carries. The Crimson Tide’s defensive front is a force of nature on the college landscape.
Fournette still leads the nation in rushing with 195 carries for 1,383 yards and 16 touchdowns. He’s the best running back in the SEC since Darren McFadden, and maybe the best since Bo Jackson.
Beyond Fournette, the Tigers are a very athletic team, and while not as deep as Alabama, LSU likely falls right underneath the Crimson Tide in that category. The Tigers are second in the SEC in defending the run, giving up just 113.2 ypg. and sixth against the pass, surrendering 217.5 ypg. LSU is giving up 23.5 ppg., but is scoring 36.0 ppg., which is second in the SEC.
Conversely, the Hogs give up 283.6 passing ypg., which is last in the SEC. The Razorbacks are better against the run, allowing 129.4 rushing ypg., which is sixth in the league. Arkansas is also surrendering the most points per game in the SEC at 29.4 ppg. Those numbers might be a bit skewed because the Razorbacks have played three overtime games this year, but only the Ole Miss game stretched beyond a single overtime period.
As so often it happens in the SEC, the game will likely hinge on which team can defend the run best as well as which team can take best advantage of what the other team’s defense gives up.
If Fournette runs wild on the Hogs, it could be a long night for the Razorbacks. The better No. 7 runs, the more effective LSU quarterback Brandon Harris is passing. The task for Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith is getting his players to execute a plan that limits Fournette without opening up the back end for Harris and his athletic receivers to plunder with play action. Alabama is the only team to do it this season, and the Tide might be the only defense in the country capable of doing it.
Going into the game, Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos better be prepared for another shootout. The Tigers are as quick as Ole Miss’ defense, but unfortunately they are even more physical. If the Razorbacks offensive line can open some holes for Alex Collins and the rest of the Razorbacks’ running game, this contest is going to be very interesting. If not, it could be a long night for the Hogs.
Arkansas quarterbacks Brandon Allen is arguably playing as well as any player in the SEC, but as good as he is at extending plays by rolling out, if the Tigers are able to pin their ears back and not honor the run, he might not have enough time to get the ball off with accuracy.
However, if the Razorbacks are able to run the ball on the Tigers, Allen and his receiving corps are only getting better and better. Tight ends Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle are a dangerous combination and wide receivers Drew Morgan, Dominique Reed and Gerald Cornelius have proven to be difficult to handle over the last few weeks.
LSU has been very good following a loss since Les Miles inherited the program from Nick Saban. In 11 seasons, the Tigers are 27-2 following a loss. Coincidentally, the Hogs beat them both times in 2014 and 2008.
As dramatic and wild as last week’s victory over Ole Miss was, should the Hogs defeat the Tigers, it would be a huge accomplishment. It would make the Razorbacks bowl eligible for the second season in a row with two more home games left to play. It would mean a four-game winning streak for the first time since Bobby Petrino took his infamous motorcycle ride. It would leave the Hogs 4-2 in SEC play, which would double the amount of SEC wins over the last two seasons and equal the amount over the past three. It would be a third SEC road victory, which would equal the most Razorbacks SEC road victories since going 4-0 in 2006. The Hogs would get to retain the Golden Boot for another season, and it would be the first time Arkansas defeated LSU in consecutive seasons since 1992 and 1993. A victory would also give the Razorbacks their 700th victory in school history.
It really feels like the Razorbacks are on a roll right now. It might be just wishful thinking, but it’s hard to doubt them. Prediction: Arkansas 41, LSU 38.