Arkansas eyes role of spoiler against No. 8 LSU

Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson would love nothing more than
to play the role of spoiler this week.

Any hopes of a bowl game ended in a loss at Mississippi State
last week for the Razorbacks (4-7, 2-5 Southeastern Conference),
who began the season ranked in the top 10.

What began with national championship dreams, even following
former coach Bobby Petrino’s firing in April, will come to a
certain end when Arkansas hosts No. 8 LSU (9-2, 5-2) on Friday. How
things play out after that for the Razorbacks, including the
identity of their new coach, is unknown.

The Tigers still have expectations of a BCS bowl game – and are
clinging to hopes of re-entering the SEC and national championship
pictures.

”This is it,” Wilson said. ”… So, why not go out there and
light it up one more time? That’s how I’m looking at it.”

Wilson wasn’t the only one to let his guard down this week.

Interim coach John L. Smith, whose return after taking over for
the scandal-ridden Petrino is unlikely, fought back tears while
looking back at the Razorbacks’ disappointing season. Arkansas
began the season ranked in the top 10 before an early season loss
to Louisiana-Monroe sent it tumbling from the polls and began a
four-game losing streak from which the Razorbacks never
recovered.

Smith, whose open personality was welcomed upon his return in
April, took criticism for his same upbeat nature once the losses
began to pile up. His coaching fate now lies in the hands of
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long following Friday’s game.

”We’re sorry again we couldn’t have maybe done more,” Smith
said.

While the Razorbacks’ postseason is expected to be filled with
transition to a new coaching staff, LSU is hopeful of a return to a
BCS bowl game and possibly more.

The Tigers appeared out of the SEC and national championship
pictures following a Nov. 3 loss to Alabama, but they are currently
the highest-ranked, two-loss team and could potentially player
their way back into next weekend’s conference title game. Of
course, that’s only possible if Auburn shocks the No. 2 Crimson
Tide this weekend – and LSU wins.

”We don’t control our own destiny,” LSU safety Eric Reid said.
”But winning 10 games and going to a BCS bowl is exactly our
motivation. Our season is not over. We have to finish the season
strong. We want to get a win over Arkansas and see what bowl game
we can get.”

The Tigers hope the rebirth of their once-anemic passing game
continues on Friday against the Razorbacks, who are 115th in the
country in allowing 292.1 yards passing per game. LSU quarterback
Zach Mettenberger struggled in the starting role earlier this
season, but he’s averaged 284.3 yards passing over his last three
games.

A win would also give the Tigers double-digit wins for the sixth
time in eight years under coach Les Miles, who is well aware of the
difficulty of playing against Wilson and Arkansas – which has won
three of its last five games against LSU.

”When you watch their film, you can see why they were ranked in
the top 10 to start the season, and they’re still there,” Miles
said. ”The quality players have played hard. John L. Smith (is) in
a tough position in this last game, but I’m sure that he’ll be
ready, and I’m sure that this Arkansas team will play
inspired.”

Injuries and fallout from the transition from Petrino – who was
fired for hiring his mistress to a position in the athletic
department and initially lying about her presence during an April 1
motorcycle accident – were too much for Arkansas to overcome this
season.

Still, Smith pleaded for fans to support the Razorbacks this
week when they host LSU in Fayetteville for the first time since
1992, the school’s first season in the SEC. Arkansas’ home game
with the Tigers has been played in its home away from home in
Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium since, and it’s been the sight
of several memorable last-second finishes between the rivals.

One of those dramatic games was a 31-30 Arkansas win in 2008, a
game that gave the Razorbacks a 5-7 record in their first season
under Petrino. The game was a springboard to future success for
Arkansas, which was 21-5 the last two seasons and won the Cotton
Bowl over Kansas State last season.

Wilson’s senior class was a part of much of the success. And
given the circumstances of the season, he couldn’t think of a
better way to close out his career.

”Little Rock’s great, and it’s been tradition to be there, for
sure,” Wilson said. ”But, not being able to go to a bowl game at
this point, to wrap up my career here in Fayetteville is the
perfect ending.”