Arkansas (3-4) will face LSU (2-3) in the Battle for the Boot on Saturday in Fayetteville.
Last season, Arkansas and LSU were polar opposites in the Southeastern Conference standings. LSU is coming off of a historic 15-0 National Championship season and Arkansas is rebounding from a 2-10 season with zero conference wins. This year, however, they find themselves in the same boat.
Arkansas looks to rebound from the 63-35 thrashing they received from Florida last week. The Tigers have not played in three weeks after they had a bye week and their game with Alabama was postponed due to multiple positive COVID-19 tests. Auburn handed the Bayou Bengals a blowout loss 48-11 in their last game.
The Hogs were without head coach Sam Pittman against Florida due to a positive Covid-19 test, but he is on schedule to coach the upcoming game. The Razorbacks are still dealing with some issues with COVID-19.
“We are going to play Saturday as of right now,” Pittman said Thursday. “We’re going to play. We have eight tests that we took today that get back tomorrow. I’m going to tell you the truth. We’re running thin. We want to play the game. But you have to have adequate numbers to play the game and we are thin. If we have good tests tomorrow then by golly we’re going to play the game.”
The Tigers journey into the game with a question mark at the quarterback position as starter Myles Brennan is not likely to play again this season.
Backups T.J. Finley and Max Johnson each threw 24 passes in LSU’s last game. Johnson replaced Finley after an interception early in the second half.
The running game for the Tigers has also been fairly inconsistent this season. They have run for fewer than 50 yards twice, and fewer than 100 yards three times this year. In contrast, they destroyed South Carolina on the ground, running for 276 yards.
Overall, the Tigers have been explosive on offense, scoring 30 or more in four of five games. As good as their offense has been, the defense has been equally permeable. They have allowed 40 or more in each of their three losses.
Aside from last week, the Razorback defense has been strong for most of the year. The Hogs are +8 in the turnover margin and have three of the SEC’s five leading tacklers, including freshman safety Jalen Catalon.
“To me [Catalon’s] the key to our defense,” Pittman said Monday via zoom. “We’re so fortunate that he’s young. He’s a freshman but in mentality he’s a senior. I mean he’s very very smart on the field and in the classroom...He’s just real valuable to us.”
The Razorback offense has improved as the season has progressed, although they will be without the dynamic senior wide receiver De’Vion Warren who suffered an ACL injury against Florida.
Over the past three games, they have averaged over 200 rushing yards as a team. Redshirt junior Trelon Smith has led the way with 220 yards on 22 carries, including an 83-yard touchdown in the Florida game.
Graduate senior quarterback Feleipe Franks has thrown for 704 yards and completed 76% of his passes to go with eight touchdowns and zero interceptions in the last three games.
Even with the improved efficiency on offense, it has still been a struggle for Arkansas to keep up with the high powered offenses in the SEC such as Florida and Texas A&M. For LSU it has been a struggle to stop any offense this season, allowing 500 or more yards in all three losses.
Arkansas won the Golden Boot Trophy consecutively in 2014 and 2015. LSU has won the four meetings since. LSU leads the all-time series 41-22-2, winning seven of the last nine meetings.
They will face off in Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville for an 11 a.m. kickoff. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network. LSU is currently a 2.5-point favorite, according to ESPN.