FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — What’s about to be read isn’t the reason Arkansas lost 38-10 to LSU on Saturday night. It’s just a signal to how, even with all that’s gone wrong this season — and plenty has — a few differences here and there and this story turns into something much more positive.
That is to say, Arkansas wasted opportunities. Two times, with the game still within striking distance, the Razorbacks started drives on the LSU side of the field and they scored three total points. Three times, once down a touchdown and the other two mere feet from scoring one, Arkansas turned the ball over. LSU was going to do what LSU was going to do regardless, but Arkansas converting even half of its chances — or not committing half the mistakes — and this game is much closer in the final minutes.
And a much closer game changes things. Arkansas still might have, probably would have, lost — teams tend to lose upon allowing almost 550 yards of total offense. But things don’t exist in a vacuum. They’re connected. If Austin Allen doesn’t throw his first interception inside his own red zone, LSU might not score on its ensuing drive. If Arkansas punches the ball in on second or third down from the 6 early in the third quarter instead of settling for a field goal, the Razorbacks are down only 7 points and perhaps LSU’s game plan changes.
Allen knew it was a misspent night.
“You never want to go out on a Saturday and play like that. You get 12 opportunities, and you kind of waste one,” he said.
Down a touchdown late in the first quarter, Allen was picked off at the Arkansas 32 by Donnie Alexander. Three plays later, LSU went ahead, 14-0.
Down 21-7, Arkansas popped the ball free from Leonard Fournette at the LSU 28. In two plays, the Razorbacks were down to the 6. Two more plays and they were still stuck there, 21-10 instead of 21-14. LSU responded with a touchdown on its next drive.
Immediately after that score, Arkansas was forced to punt, but a LSU muffed return gave the home team the ball back on the right side of the 50. They subsequently went three-and-out.
In the meantime, Fournette and Derrius Guice were slicing through the Arkansas defense for almost 400 yards rushing. The game was the fourth this season the Razorbacks had allowed more than 250 yards on the ground — and they lost all of them. They didn’t even give up that many back in Bielema’s first year in 2013, and that team went winless in the SEC. They didn’t do it the year before, either, when John L. Smith was coach.
Missed opportunities may come to define this Arkansas season, if the atrocious running defense doesn’t. It still can finish with eight regular-season wins, which would technically be an improvement over last year’s seven-win year. Doing that requires winning out. Games against Mississippi State and Missouri remain, both on the road. Both are inferior to Arkansas on paper, too.
But given the opportunities not taken, they’re both far from guaranteed. Where would six wins leave them?