FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Fresh off a huge victory over Florida, Arkansas hosts 19th-ranked LSU on Saturday inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The game marks the Hogs’ fifth straight contest against a ranked opponent.
The Razorbacks have won two straight in this rivalry, beating the Tigers 31-14 last year in Baton Rouge, La.
Here are 5 key things for Razorbacks fans to watch in this game:
5. The Bama effect
For the third straight season, Arkansas gets LSU in November and exactly one week after the Tigers’ game against Alabama.
LSU has lost to Arkansas by 17 points in each of the last two seasons.
There is no question that in this regard, the scheduling gods are kind to the Razorbacks. (Side note: Next year, LSU plays Alabama and Arkansas in consecutive weeks, too.)
This week, LSU is coming off a bruising, hard-fought 10-0 loss to the top-ranked Crimson Tide.
It was a particularly heartbreaking defeat because the Tigers and Tide were locked in a scoreless tie entering the fourth quarter before Alabama ultimately prevailed for its sixth straight victory over LSU.
Will LSU be mentally and physically worn down enough for the Hogs to take advantage?
4. The kicking game
This game could be a close struggle because the teams are rivals and both seem to be playing pretty good defense coming into it. If that’s the case, punters, kickers and return men could make a big difference.
Arkansas punter Toby Baker is having an excellent season, and on the other side, LSU’s Tre’Davious White is a capable return man.
LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye has only attempted 8 field goals this season and made just 5 of them. He’s 1 of 4 from 40 or more yards.
Arkansas changed kickers in early October, giving senior Adam McFain the job. Since taking over, McFain is 4 for 4 on his field goal attempts, including makes from 43 and 54 yards.
Arkansas has not won consecutive games since beating TCU and Texas State in back-to-back weeks in September. The Hogs seemed to pick up big momentum from their Oct. 15 home win over Ole Miss but were bludgeoned 56-3 a week later at Auburn.
Following a 31-10 win over 11th-ranked Florida last week, can the Hogs string two straight wins together? If they can beat the Tigers, the rest of the regular-season schedule — trips to Mississippi State and Missouri — looks very manageable, meaning the Razorbacks could enter bowl season on a four-game winning streak.
2. Run defense
Arkansas seemed to made big strides between the Auburn debacle and the Florida victory. The Hogs went from surrendering an embarrassing 543 rushing yards to allowing the Gators just 12 two weeks later.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema made significant personnel changes to his defense and based on the Florida game, those seem to have worked. That, combined with the news that all-world LSU running back Leonard Fournette won’t be 100 percent because of an ankle injury, bodes well for the Razorbacks.
Still, LSU sophomore and No. 2 back Derrius Guice is no slouch. He’s got 629 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns this season.
1. Offensive line
No group of Arkansas players has taken a bigger beating in the public square than the offensive line. Considering how often Austin Allen was being sacked — or even just hit — that criticism certainly wasn’t unfair.
But the Razorback O-line came to play against Florida. Allen was sacked just once and the Hogs rushed for 223 yards against the Gators.
The insertion of sophomore Johnny Gibson into the starting lineup seems to have made a big difference.
But while there is certainly reason for optimism after the Florida game, LSU has a stout defense of its own. Can the Hogs O-line string together consecutive strong performances? The final score may ultimately depend on the answer to that question.