What to Watch: Arkansas travels to No. 24 LSU

Hogs hope to take back Golden Boot in Baton Rouge

By Bart Pohlman

It’s getting to be do-or-die time for Arkansas.

The Razorbacks (4-5, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) are 17-point underdogs Saturday in Baton Rouge against LSU (6-3, 3-2 SEC), and aren’t likely to be favored in either of the remaining games vs. Mississippi State and Missouri. That means Arkansas will need to pull two upsets the rest of the way to get bowl eligible, the likelihood of which is fading by the day.

Here are a few things to keep an eye on when the Hogs and Tigers kick off at 11 a.m. on the SEC Network.

1. Can Arkansas run the ball?

LSU is 7-0 under Ed Orgeron when allowing fewer than 100 rushing yards, including a 3-0 mark this season. But the Tigers are just 5-5 under Orgeron and 3-3 this year when giving up more than 100 yards on the ground.

Meanwhile, Bret Bielema is just 2-15 at Arkansas when his team fails to rush for 150 yards or more. The Razorbacks are 4-1 this season when rushing for 200-plus yards.

It’s hard to see Arkansas having much success on the ground against LSU’s defensive front, but it’s not just about being able to run the ball. If Arkansas can’t stop Derrius Guice, the Hogs don’t stand a chance.

Dating back to the start of the 2005 season, LSU is 121-19 when rushing for 100 yards, 72-5 when holding an opponent under 100 rushing yards, and an incredible 71-0 when accomplishing both of those feats.

Last year, Guice had the second-best rushing performance in LSU history against the Hogs, totaling 252 yards on just 21 carries. As a team, the Tigers finished with 390 yards on the ground and averaged 7.6 yards per carry.

2. Will this be a close game heading to the fourth quarter?

LSU is 9-1 under Orgeron when leading at halftime, and it might be a big ask for Arkansas to keep things competitive in the second half.

In games against South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn, Arkansas trailed by 24, 28 and 32 points, respectively, entering the fourth quarter. Despite back-to-back fourth-quarter comebacks, this is not an Arkansas team that has played well in the second half against good teams.

Good teams have jumped out to leads over the Hogs and haven’t relinquished them. To expect anything different Saturday would be going against the grain.

3. Who plays quarterback for the Razorbacks?

The quarterback debate has been raging the past few weeks in Arkansas, and for good reason—no one really has any idea who’s going to line up under center for the Hogs for any given game at this point.

Last week, Bret Bielema said Austin Allen would play against Coastal Carolina, and maybe as early as the second quarter. Allen didn’t play.

This week, it’s been all hush-hush once again, but there have been indications that Cole Kelley will be the starter, assuming his foot is healed and ready to go. In his weekly press conference Monday, Bielema sure made it seem that’d be the case.

“Cole’s a young quarterback in his career that’s very excited,” Bielema said. “He’s always a guy who plays with high energy and high emotion, and how he goes to his home crowd and he’s going to be the starting quarterback. That’s a lot of emotions for him to deal with.”

On Wednesday’s SEC teleconference, Bielema said he’s not trying to keep a secret, but rather just play the guy who gives Arkansas the best chance to win.

Who knows who will suit up at quarterback for Arkansas in Baton Rouge on Saturday? You can make the argument for either guy, depending on health. What’s clear, however, is that whoever lines up under center is going to have a tough go of it in Death Valley.