Last year’s catastrophic loss in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in early November left LSU in a tailspin to close out the season.
The Tigers, who entered their annual showdown with Alabama ranked No. 2 in the College Football Playoff Rankings, followed suit with back-to-back losses to Arkansas and Ole Miss, putting Les Miles squarely on the hot seat.
Well, this time around, Miles is already out of the picture. No. 24 LSU is looking to flip the script and avoid a post-Tide hangover and, yet again, the Tigers must contend with surging Arkansas.
Interim coach Ed Orgeron is leading the charge this November, and the high-motor coach has already seen a different-looking squad than he did a year ago.
“This is a new year. We realize things that had happened in the past. Yesterday was our most energetic practice,” Orgeron said during the SEC Coaches Teleconference on Wednesday.
“The stigma after the Alabama game is that we don’t play well — we’re aware of it. We plan on changing that. The older guys that want to finish strong are becoming vocal. We’re out to prove it’s not going to happen to us this year.”
Orgeron credited senior defenders like Duke Riley and Lewis Neal for stepping up in practice this week, which included a Tuesday night session in the rain.
The inclement weather did not deter these Tigers’ energy levels. Instead, it left coach O with an encouraging feeling heading into Saturday’s showdown in Fayetteville, Ark.
“It’s been a challenge, but the guys have responded,” he said. “It was a high energetic practice yesterday. We practiced outside in a slight rain. We felt it was one of our best practices.”
One of the keys to bouncing back will be getting No. 7 more involved in the game plan.
Leonard Fournette managed 35 yards on seven carries last week against Alabama but is set to face a defense he’s trampled in the past.
In a 31-14 home loss to the Hogs last season, Fournette gained 99 yards and a touchdown on 19 attempts. That’s a 5.21 yard-per-carry average LSU is hoping to see replicated again this weekend.
“We have to be able to run the football,” Orgeron said. “We have to do the things we know how to do, give the ball to Fournette, to (Derrius) Guice. We have to run the football to be able to beat Arkansas.”
Alabama has laid a blueprint on how to contain Fournette. Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks held him to fewer than 100 yards a year ago and 9 yards on five carries as a true freshman in 2014.
That past success has no barring on what Arkansas and its 91st-ranked rush defense is planning for this game. The Hogs’ defense is a bit battered, but understand that LSU’s No. 7 — bum ankle or not — will be up for this challenge.
“We might have had the good fortune of playing him later in the year,” Bielema said, referring to Arkansas’ success against Fournette, “but he’ll be ready to rock and roll Saturday. He’s a very good football player with good players in front of him. Everyone gives attention to their running backs and offensive line, but they have — in my opinion — a fullback that fits their scheme very, very well, who understands and does what they want him to do.
“This is a new week, a new opponent and new set of circumstances this weekend.”
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