HOGS vs. LSU in-depth preview
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas, with covid-19 positive tests and contact tracing present, and LSU, which had to postpone its game last week due to quaratntines, expect to play Saturday morning at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The Razorbacks (3-4) and LSU’s Tigers (2-3) are scheduled to play at 11 a.m. Saturday on the SEC Network. The winner secures the Golden Boot Trophy, annually at stake and last won by the Hogs in 2014 and 2015.
Coach Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks remain above the SEC’s minimum 53 available scholarship players, but he has acknowledged his Razorbacks are significantly depleted. Arkansas AD Hunter Yurachek's tweet Friday morning implied the game will take place as scheduled.
LSU last played on Halloween and lost 48-11 to Auburn.
“We’ve got most of our guys back,” Orgeron said of quarantines fulfilled. “Our guys are ready to play.”
Coming off last year’s 15-0 national championship season, this 2-3 campaign has proven a nightmare of injuries (including quarterback Myles Brennan), opt-outs, players turning pro and too much turnover in players and staff.
Orgeron has revised goals for a struggling team younger than he envisioned. He recalled a stunning 2017 loss to Troy as an impetus for the 2019 national championship.
“We’re a young football team, and I told them we’re building a championship team,” Orgeron said. “Just like after we lost to Troy, we had to get together, get back to the fundamentals and the basics and acquire some grit and some toughness. That’s what we’re doing right now.”
Brennan last played during the 45-41 Oct. 10 loss at Missouri. He is not expected to play at Arkansas, Orgeron said.
Orgeron hasn’t named a starting QB between freshmen T.J. Finley, completing 30 of 45 for 408 yards and two touchdowns vs. three interceptions the past two games, or Max Johnson, 15 of 24 for 172 yards with a TD.
“It looks like it's going to be (Finley) because Max was out with the quarantine,” Orgeron said. “Tuesday was his first day of practice."
Whoever quarterbacks has two big-time receivers: wideout Terrace Marshall (31 catches, 540 yards and nine TDs) and tight end Arik Gilbert (22 catches, 259 yards and two TDs) to target.
Defensively, LSU safety JaCoby Stevens and cornerback Derek Stingley starred for last year’s national champions and star again.
“They’ve got a great secondary,” Arkansas wideout Mike Woods said. “I mean, it’s the SEC. Every week we go against talented players.”
Arkansas kickoff man Vito Calvaruso needs to keep kicking through the end zone, and punter Reid Bauer must punt strategically.
LSU’s Trey Palmer returned a kickoff for a 93-yard TD. Stingley averages 30.7 yards per punt return.
“We need to kick it away from them or kick it out,” Pittman said. “One or the other, because they have a great return team.”
Before dealing with the likely absences of players not publicly specified, the Razorbacks lost receiver De’Vion Warren (tom ACL vs. Florida) for the season. They hope for the return of tight end Hudson Henry and offensive linemen Noah Gatlin and Beaux Limmer, unable to play last week.
Pittman was encouraged offensively off the Florida game with running back Trelon Smith’s eight carries for 118 yards, including an 83-yard touchdown run. Smith leads Arkansas with 456 rushing yards and 5.7 yards per carry.
“He had an outstanding game,” Pittman said. “We’ve got to get him the ball more.”
While not facing a senior Heisman Trophy candidate QB this week like Florida’s Kyle Trask (six TD passes last week), the UA defense comes off its first truly subpar performance. Florida’s 63-point barrage bumped Arkansas’ yards and points allowed per game this fall to 429 and 31.4.
“We put this past week behind us,” Arkansas sophomore nickel back Greg Brooks (29 tackles, two INTs in 2020) said. “We're moving forward.”
Senior linebacker Grant Morgan tops the UA tackle chart with 85, including five TFL and a sack, followed by former coach Chad Morris signees Bumper Pool (71 tackles), Jalen Catalon (70 tackles) and Joe Foucha (41 tackles).