Arkansas (7-4) at (17) L-S-U (8-3)
Saturday, November 28th, 6:00 p.m.
GAME NOTES: The 17th-ranked LSU Tigers and the surging Arkansas Razorbacks will collide in Baton Rouge on Saturday night.
Through seven games, Arkansas was 3-4 overall, and fans were wondering aloud if Bobby Petrino was the right head coach for the program. Those questions have seemingly disappeared thanks to a current four-game win streak, which includes last weekend's 42-21 decision over Mississippi State. If the Razorbacks are able to win this weekend, they will even their SEC mark at 4-4.
As for LSU, it has suffered losses in two of the last three outings after winning seven of eight to open the campaign. The Tigers fell to Ole Miss on the road last weekend by a 25-23 final, and all three losses have come by 10 or fewer points. The other two setbacks occurred against Alabama and Florida, the two teams that will meet in the SEC Championship Game.
LSU owns a 33-19-2 advantage in the all-time series with Arkansas, but the Razorbacks posted a thrilling 31-30 victory in last season's meeting.
Arkansas is an explosive offensive team that is averaging 38.0 ppg and 445.2 total ypg. While tailback Michael Smith has been lost for the season with a hamstring injury, Broderick Green (10 TDs) and others are capable of pick up the slack.
The strength of the Razorback offense is the passing attack, led by Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett at the quarterback position. Deserving of consideration for SEC Player of the Year honors, Mallett has completed 58.8 percent of his passes for 3,195 yards and 28 touchdowns with six interceptions. He has Greg Childs on the outside, who has made 40 catches for 738 yards and seven touchdowns.
Opponents are posting 25.1 ppg and 408.7 total ypg against an Arkansas team that has been nothing more than mediocre defensively this season. The Razorbacks have clearly struggled against the pass, as they have allowed opposing quarterbacks to average 13.9 yards per completion with 19 touchdowns against 10 interceptions.
Mallett was sensational against Mississippi State last week, as the sophomore became the first Razorback in the 100-plus year history of football to throw for over 3,000 yards in a single season. He tied his own school record with five passing scores in that tilt, two of which went to freshman Cobi Hamilton. Mallett finished 18-of-34 for 313 yards.
"There's still time to do a little more and help the team out," said Mallett after the contest, refusing to get too caught up in his numbers.
Arkansas was tremendous against the pass for a change against Mississippi State, limiting the Bulldogs to 49 yards through the air. The Razorbacks did, however, yield 327 rushing yards on 55 attempts, an average of 5.9 yards per carry with three touchdowns. That shaky showing was masked by Mallett's play.
"It certainly wasn?t easy," said Petrino of the win. "We really had to fight. I don't think it was the best game we've played this year, but we worked hard and did a good job making adjustments and getting some key stops on defense."
Moving on to LSU, it is averaging 24.8 ppg and 308.2 total ypg, modest numbers for an offense that hasn't reached its full potential. Sure, it can be argued that the losses of tailbacks Charles Scott, Keiland Williams and Richard Murphy to season-ending injuries have hurt the offense, but the overall play has been inconsistent even when Scott, the top runner, was active.
Quarterback Jordan Jefferson is still young, and while he hasn't made a ton of bad decisions this season (five interceptions), his 1,785 passing yards in 10 starts and 14 touchdowns suggests that big plays through the air have been few and far between. There is a star wideout in the fold, as Brandon LaFell has made 48 catches for 635 yards and nine touchdowns.
Opponents are scoring only 14.7 ppg against LSU, which is once again a tremendous defensive team. The Tigers are limiting opponents to 3.5 yards per rushing attempt, and they have one more interceptions (12) than touchdown passes allowed (11).
LSU totaled a mere 290 yards of total offense against Ole Miss last time out, including 40 rushing yards on 27 attempts. Jefferson threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns, and Terrance Toliver paced the Tigers with five catches for 107 yards. Unfortunately, the offense simply didn't score enough points to avoid defeat.
"He threw the ball well," said Toliver of Jefferson. "The Ole Miss defense was getting in the backfield a lot, and a lot of times he had to throw out of desperation."
The LSU defense yielded 426 total yards to Ole Miss, including 233 yards through the air. The Tigers didn't come up with a single takeaway and failed to register any sacks as well. The lack of impact plays certainly contributed to the two-point defeat.
"I felt like the team played awfully hard," said coach Les Miles after the tough loss. "I felt like our defense played better in the second half than in the first."
LSU is tough to beat at home under the lights, so give a narrow edge to the Tigers. Still, don't expect Mallett to make things easy.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: LSU 30, Arkansas 27
Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor