No. 9 LSU's hopes could hinge on Arkansas matchup
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) It sounds as if LSU's football players are trying to convince themselves of how important their clash with Arkansas is - even on the heels of a crushing loss to longtime nemesis Alabama.
''We need to finish the season strong and see where we end up,'' LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White said. ''We just have to try to bounce back this week with a good showing.''
The Southeastern Conference Western Division standings indicate that Saturday night's meeting between No. 9 LSU and resurgent Arkansas in Tiger Stadium is indeed a significant game. If LSU wins its final three SEC games, and if Alabama stumbles once in its final two league contests, the Tigers will advance to the SEC championship game in Atlanta.
But last week's 30-16 loss to the Crimson Tide didn't just end LSU's unbeaten run and knock them out of first in the West. It looked demoralizing and humbling. The Tigers' entire season had built up to last weekend's tilt in Tuscaloosa, but LSU wasn't even competitive in the second half, falling to the Tide for the fifth straight time since losing the 2011-12 national title game.
Last year, a high-stakes loss to Alabama sent the Tigers into a tailspin and they lost the next week at Arkansas in a game known as the ''Battle for the Boot.''
''I can guarantee it won't be the same deal this year,'' White said.
While Arkansas isn't ranked, they're on the verge of being bowl bound, thanks to a stunning run of offensive outbursts. The Razorbacks have scored 170 points over their past three games, and their resilient, dramatic and daring overtime triumph at Mississippi became one of the top stories from the previous week's action.
''Winning and success is contagious,'' Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said of his players. ''There's a lot to be said for what they're feeling right now.''
Here are some other things to watch when Arkansas and LSU meet for 61st time:
HEISMAN HOPES: Turns out LSU running back and Heisman Trophy hopeful Leonard Fournette can be stopped - at least by Alabama. Fournette gained 31 yards rushing on 19 carries last weekend, his worst game this season by more than 100 yards. He still averages 172.9 yards and has scored 16 touchdowns, but will need to bounce back strong to remain in contention for college football's most prestigious individual award.
OFFENSIVE OUTBURST: Arkansas has moved up to second in the SEC in total offense, averaging 472.6 yards. The Hogs have put up 50 points or more in three straight games for the first time in 99 years. Two of those games were overtime victories against Auburn and Ole Miss. ''Right now, we're a 5-4 team that's headed in the right direction,'' Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen said. ''Guys have a lot more confidence now, knowing that when it gets close late in the game, we can close these out.''
HOLDING THE LINE: LSU's offensive line absorbed most of the blame for Fournette's futility last week. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound running back often was swarmed behind the line of scrimmage. Quarterback Brandon Harris didn't have much time to throw, either. ''We can't hang our hats on one game. We can't just say, `We lost.' We have to make sure last Saturday doesn't happen again,'' LSU guard Will Clapp said.
BRANDON VS. BRANDON: Arkansas' Allen has emerged as one of the more prolific QBs in the SEC, with 2,476 yards and 21 touchdowns passing. LSU's Brandin Harris, managing an offense which has run the ball 70 percent of the time this season, has passed for 1,226 yards and 10 TDs.
GETTING THE BOOT: This year's game marks the 20th meeting since the schools decided to award the winner a large 24-karat gold trophy in the shape of the two bordering states, which resembles a boot. LSU has won it 12 times, but Arkansas is trying to win it for the second straight year. ''Everybody loves that Boot, man,'' Bielema said. ''We've got it sitting down there in that little spot (in the Fred Smith Football Center) and people come off that elevator and they freak out. They want to take a picture with the Boot.''
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org