LSU poses difficult challenge for Razorbacks

Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis / Photo:

There have been times when the Battle for the Boot has meant everything to the Arkansas Razorbacks and the LSU Tigers, when a shot at the SEC Championship was on the line and bowl positioning was a part of the equation.

Other times, it was just another game.

Unfortunately, this season it’s just another game. With Coach Chad Morris in his first year of rebuilding the Razorback program, the Hogs are at the bottom of the SEC barrel, while the Tigers are near the top. The Razorbacks are 2-5 overall and are still looking for their first SEC victory with an 0-5 conference mark.

With an open date last week, the Hogs should be refreshed to a degree and ready to compete on what will be the last Razorback home game for the seniors. The Hogs final two games are on the road at Mississippi State on on Nov. 17 and at Missouri on Nov. 23.

As for the No. 9 Tigers (7-2, 4-2SEC), it’s hard to know exactly what their mentality will be going into Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium following their 29-0 shutout at the hands of No. 1 Alabama.

Will Ed Ogeron’s Tigers suffer through an “Alabama Hangover” that is a very real thing since Nick Saban got the Crimson Tide up and running at peak efficiency in his second season. Even if the Tigers aren’t at their best, will it matter?

Despite what happened last weekend at Death Valley, LSU has one of the best defenses in the nation, the best the Razorbacks have seen this season, according to Morris and his offensive coordinator Joe Craddock. That includes Alabama’s.

As for the Hogs, their offense has improved incrementally during the course of the season, but Arkansas is by no means an offensive juggernaut. The Razorbacks have struggled with offensive consistency all season and points have been difficult to come by no matter the opponent after the opening game of the year.

Considering LSU whipped the SEC Eastern Division champion Georgia, 36-16, on Oct. 13, I consider the Tigers the second-best team in the SEC.

LSU’s offense may have seemed to have no dimensions against a fired up Alabama square last weekend, but for the bulk of the season their defense as set the table for points and the Tigers’ offense has been able to capitalize.

I don’t see this game going well for Arkansas because of the strength of LSU’s defense. The Tigers are favored by 13.5 points, and realistically, the Razorbacks probably will have a tough time staying that close,

However, strange things have happened in this series over the years, and there is a history of the team with little to gain coming out as the winner.

That said, I don’t think the Hogs have enough in the tank to spring an upset of a team as talented and deep as LSU, and thus far Morris has not shown the motivational skills to push the right buttons to help the Razorbacks’ overachieve.

Unfortunately, it appears the Hogs will still be looking for their first SEC win going into the final two weeks of the season.

Open Dates and Opportunity

The Razorbacks are, of course, coming off an open date as they prepare to face LSU. That fact likely works to the Hogs’ advantage for this game. It probably won’t be enough of an advantage to upset the No. 9 Tigers, but it no doubt helped the entire team to get a week’s rest. Ten weeks into an SEC season, nearly every player is nursing some sort ache or pain if not an actual injury.

However, an open date two-thirds of the way through the season is too late to serve the ultimate good of a college football team. Likewise having an open date during the first third of a season isn’t as useful to a football program as having one at or near the midpoint of the season.

The pushback, of course, is that there are 14 teams in the SEC, and there is no way for each one to have an open date at the most opportune time.

That’s true to a degree, but the league made it work out so that Alabama and LSU had open dates on the weekend before their big showdown. I doubt that was a random act. I’m guessing that was programed into the computer that calculated the league’s schedule.

My thought is that it would benefit all 14 teams in the league if it was coded into the scheduling program that half the SEC teams would have an open date on the sixth playing week of the season and the other half would have an open date on the seventh.

Yes, that is a lot of conference teams to be off over a two-week period, but it would still leave the networks four games involving SEC teams to broadcast.

Three would be between conference opponents and one would have to be an SEC squad playing a nonconference team. It would likely be a cupcake opponent to start off with, but if ESPN or CBS got involved, perhaps a Power 5 opponent could be convinced into filling the nonconference spots. Maybe the games could be played at a neutral site.

For instance, maybe Texas, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State could be coaxed into playing Arkansas at AT&T Stadium as the nonconference game on one of those two weekends or maybe Notre Dame and Alabama could hook up in Cincinnati or USC and Georgia in Phoenix, or Florida and Miami in Jacksonville as other examples.

Two neutral-site, midseason, nonconference games of that caliber on back-to-back weekends could be marketed too the moon and back without much imagination.

That would just be a byproduct of the scheduling change. The real benefit would be that each of the SEC teams would get an open date around midseason when it would be more useful to them than in the first or last third of the season.

Yes, there would be hoops to jump through, but the SEC could make the scheduling change happen rather easily if it wanted to do so.