Instant Analysis: Arkansas defeats LSU to continue late-season surge
LSU entered Saturday’s game against Arkansas hoping to bounce back from last weekend’s 30–16 loss at Alabama. The Razorbacks, meanwhile, came in as the winners of three straight, including a wild, high-scoring victory over Ole Miss. They extended that streak with a 31–14 upset of the ninth-ranked Tigers in Baton Rouge. Here are three thoughts on Arkansas’s win.
1. LSU’s offense has real issues
Last week the Crimson Tide shut down Tigers star tailback Leonard Fournette (31 yards, 19 carries) and forced quarterback Brandon Harris to make plays. The sophomore didn’t rise to the occasion, completing only 6 of 19 passing attempts as LSU was held to less than 200 total yards. Still, it would have been reasonable to attribute the Tigers’ offensive woes, at least in part, to a dominant Alabama front that turned in yet another strong effort at Mississippi State on Saturday.
But LSU didn’t show much progress on that side of the ball against Arkansas. Harris performed better than he did last week, but the Tigers failed to complement their passing game with consistent production on the ground. LSU recorded –3 rushing yards in the first half, as Fournette was held in check again (91 rushing yards, 19 carries) and no other Tigers player recorded more than six rushing yards. It was another subpar showing from a unit that, during the Tigers’ 7–0 start, had been labeled as one-dimensional.
Over the last two weeks, LSU has been unable to rely on its ground game to extend drives. The Tigers’ defense hasn’t helped, either, as it allowed Arkansas tailback Alex Collins to rush for 141 yards a week after Alabama’s Derrick Henry gashed it for 210. The result? Two double-digit losses for a team once seemingly on track to earn a College Football Playoff bid.
2. Arkansas looks like the team we thought it could be
The Razorbacks received three conference championship votes in the SEC preseason poll and were pegged in August as a dark-horse division title contender. That optimism gave way to disappointment and schadenfreude as Arkansas dropped home games to Toledo (16–12) and Texas Tech (35–24) in September. But Bret Bielema’s team has now won three consecutive games against SEC West foes (and four overall) to improve to 6–4 and become bowl eligible. So, how did the Razorbacks turn things around?
Collins has recorded more than 100 rushing yards in all four victories, but Arkansas has also gotten solid play from quarterback Brandon Allen. In the Razorbacks’ three straight wins before Saturday, the senior averaged more than 300 passing yards and threw 11 touchdowns against one interception. Allen completed only nine passes on Saturday, but his uptick in performance has given Arkansas more offensive balance. The ability to beat opponents by either riding Collins or moving the ball through the air will serve the Razorbacks well in two remaining SEC games (Mississippi State and Missouri) and their bowl game.
3. Did LSU suffer from an Alabama hangover? Probably not
A little more than a week ago, LSU was unbeaten and in the running for a playoff berth. Now it’s out of the playoff picture and on a two-game losing streak. Yet dismissing this defeat as a hangover after the Alabama loss would be a disservice to Arkansas. For one, the Tigers were 27–2 under coach Les Miles following a loss. For another, the Razorbacks outplayed the Tigers on both sides of the ball. They opened up big holes for Collins, shut down Fournette and delivered a number of big plays—including a 52-yard touchdown pass from Allen to Dominique Reed in the first quarter—in scoring 21 unanswered points to open the game.
This has been a steep fall for an LSU team that some observers considered an equal to Alabama. But the Tigers were humbled by two quality opponents, one of whom (Alabama) could be ranked first in the next edition of the playoff rankings and another (Arkansas) playing its best football of the season. LSU’s goals are far less lofty than they were at the beginning of the month, but it can still go to a quality bowl if it plays to its potential in games against Ole Miss and Texas A&M.