BATON ROUGE, La. — Compared to last week’s game against Alabama, this Saturday’s game against Arkansas seems simple for the LSU football team.
The Tigers carry a losing streak half as long into a game that matters half as much against a team half as good. But that doesn’t mean that this game lacks intrigue.
LSU has lost its last two contests against Arkansas, both by 17 points. And last year against the Hogs, Leonard Fournette had his second-worst game of the season, mustering 91 yards on 19 carries. The history between these teams puts a lot on the line. But so does the future.
Unlike the Alabama game, this game can’t position LSU to win the SEC or qualify for the College Football Playoff. But it can help earn Ed Orgeron the full-time job as LSU’s head coach. That’s what LSU’s players seem to be playing for.
And what do they need to do to keep his chances alive? Here are five big question marks heading into Saturday’s game.
1. Will LSU be able to run the ball?
In the last two years, the Tigers have rushed for a combined 95 yards on 62 carries against Arkansas. Other than Alabama, no team has held LSU under 100 rushing yards in one game over that span, let alone two.
But things should be a little bit different this year. Arkansas has the No. 92 ranked rush defense in the country, allowing almost 200 rush yards per game. You shouldn’t expect LSU to rush for the 543 yards Auburn did against Arkansas, but don’t expect the Tigers to be held under 50 yards again, either.
2. How will Danny Etling bounce back?
Etling had the worst game of his LSU career against Alabama, and it wouldn’t be shocking for him to come out trying to do too much in this game. That said, his protection almost certainly will be improved this weekend, so he’ll have enough time to make decisions and watch his routes develop.
The biggest question is whether Etling will be trigger-happy to avoid taking hits like he did last week. I don’t think that should be a problem, but it’s worth monitoring.
3. Can the LSU defense possibly be that good again?
Since 2012, the LSU defense has allowed 10 points or fewer in 11 games against FBS competition. In the next game following the stout performance, the team has allowed an average of 22.7 points, or about a two-touchdown increase from the previous week.
Of course, none of those defenses were overseen by Dave Aranda. Dating back to 2014, Aranda’s defenses have only allowed more than 24 points five times, two of which were eventual national champions. None have done that this season.
With that as an indicator, no, I don’t think there will be too much of a letdown.
4. Will Derrius Guice get the ball in this game?
Probably. There’s no excuse for Guice to get only two touches like he did against Alabama. Orgeron pledged on his radio show Wednesday night that Guice will be more of a weapon in the game plan this week, which bodes well for LSU.
In the Tigers’ three losses this season, Guice has rushed an average of 2.33 times per game. In their five wins? Guice has averaged 14.6 rushes and 111.2 yards per game over three starts and two stints off the bench.
5. Can Ed Orgeron win the job this week?
Probably not. A win over Arkansas would go a long way toward putting him back in position to win the job, but it wouldn’t hand him the job overnight. He’ll probably need to win out, or at the very least win two out of the last three and win a bowl game, to get the full-time gig.
That said, a loss to Arkansas might just turn the opinion away from him and hurt his chances more than a win could help. But I don’t think that’s going to be the case. I’m picking LSU this week, 23-13.