Razorbacks look rickety for the Battle of the Boot

(UA Athletics)

It’s alright for Hog fans to still be more than a little irked by the Razorbacks’ 21-19 loss to Liberty last week. It would be odd if they weren’t.

However, it’s not O.K. if fans let that disappointment dampen their spirit for Saturday morning’s Battle for the Boot.

The Razorbacks (5-4, 2-3 SEC) need their fans at peak level early to have a fighting chance against the No. 7 LSU Tigers (7-2, 5-1 SEC) because unfortunately the Hogs are ailing on several counts.

Starting safety Myles Slusher is out for the game after a run-in with the law early last Sunday morning on Dickson Street. As former Oklahoma QB and current Carolina Panther Baker Mayfield once said describing his Fayetteville arrest, “Dickson Street, it’ll get ya.”

Starting offensive tackle Dalton Wagoner has missed practice time this week and Ty’Kieast Crawford could star in his spot, but most importantly, Razorback quarterback K.J. Jefferson has an injured clavicle/shoulder that’s hindering his ability to throw.

Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said in his final media appearance of the week that it could be a game-time decision whether Jefferson plays this week or not. He also said the decision might be made before. Either way quarterbacks Malik Hornsby and Cade Fortin took most of the snaps this week in practice.s

At the time of this writing Thursday morning, LSU is a 3.5 favorite, which seems slight, considering the Tigers upended Alabama, 32-31, in overtime last Saturday in Death Valley. If you see that line move any, it might be an indication of Las Vegas receiving some information about Jefferson.

Without Jefferson, the Razorbacks took a hard tumble at Starkville, Miss. against Mike Leach’s Bulldogs, 40-17. That loss was easier to stomach than last week’s against Liberty or earlier in the season in a 23-21 loss to Texas A&M at Arlington, Texas in which Jefferson played.

Winning either or both of those would have the Hogs’ bowl eligible, fans geared up for a Razorback upset of the Tigers, and hopeful of a New Year’s bowl trip to a warm destination.

Now many Razorback fans are trying decide if they want to spend Saturday morning hustling to make an 11 a.m. kickoff or enjoying deer camp.

Should the Hogs win another game, Razorback fans then have to consider whether it is is worth their hard-earned money to take a late December vacation to such luxurious locations as Houston, Memphis or Atlanta for the Texas, Liberty, or Peach bowls?

Don’t get me wrong, there are fun times to be had in all of those cities even if it’s 40 degrees or below, but Hog fans had their minds set on grander and warmer destinations after the Razorbacks went 9-4 in Pittman’s second season.

Illusions or perhaps delusions of grandeur danced too early in our collective Razorback minds.

We must remember that Arkansas’ roster was bolstered last year by more than a dozen super seniors, who returned for fifth and sixth seasons of eligibility. Experience and leadership can mitigate talent.

Take nothing away from the 2021 Razorbacks. It was a very good season, but also remember that team was a made field goal against LSU in overtime and a missed field goal by Mississippi State at the end of the game away from being 6-6 instead of 8-4. The margin between a very good season and a mediocre one can be that close.

This season the number of super seniors was down, but unfortunately injuries have been up since the very first game. Compounding that issue, the injuries were concentrated in the defensive backfield. At one point the Hogs were down six of their top defensive backs. Arkansas linebacker Bumper Pool was having trouble sitting from a hip injury that he’s done his best to play through.

Making matters worse, Jefferson — perhaps the most indispensable Razorback — has been beat up since early October. Many assumed Jefferson was out against MSU with a concussion. The shoulder issue evidently came in victories over BYU or Auburn, or maybe it has been nagging him since Alabama.

Either way the Razorbacks’ leader will likely be in pain if he plays Saturday, and likely limited. Receivers were open deep against BYU and Liberty, but Jefferson opted to throw shorter routes in both games, sometimes into double coverage.

So this showdown with LSU comes when the Tigers are flexing and improving, while the Hogs are limited by a suspension and injuries.

Somehow that 3.5 advantage to LSU doesn’t seem like enough?

LSU is the more athletic team, and they are playing the best they have all year. Arkansas seems like its reeling. That doesn’t seem like a great formula for a Razorback upset.

But stranger things have happened on cold days in Fayetteville. Maybe it will again?

This Week’s Games (Nov. 12)

11 a.m. — Missouri at Tennessee (ESPN+)
11 a.m. — LSU at Arkansas (ESPN)
11 a.m. — Vanderbilt at Kentucky (SEC Network)
2:30 p.m. — Alabama at Ole Miss (CBS)
3 p.m. — South Carolina at Florida (SEC Network)
6 p.m. — Georgia at Mississippi State (ESPN)
6:30 p.m. — Texas A&M at Auburn (SEC Network)

SEC West Standings

Ole Miss8-14-1
Miss. St.6-33-3
Texas A&M3-61-5

SEC East Standings

S. Carolina6-33-3