Arkansas hopes to end heartbreak against LSU
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Bret Bielema isn’t one to follow betting lines, but he admitted this week ”it’s not surprising” Arkansas is favored over LSU.
Maybe not for the Razorbacks coach, but the spread is notable nevertheless – particularly because Arkansas (4-5, 0-5 Southeastern Conference) brings a 17-game conference losing streak into its matchup with the No. 20 Tigers (7-3, 3-3, No. 17 CFP) on Saturday night.
Few teams, if any, have endured as many heartbreaking losses this season as the Razorbacks.
Despite the repeated overtime and last-minute defeats, Bielema’s confidence in his team has remained high. And he’s more than ready to finally see that confidence translate into his first conference win since leaving Wisconsin for Arkansas following the 2012 season.
”Sometimes you’re the last person to know how really good you are, you know,” Bielema said. ”And I’ve told our guys repeatedly, is if all these other people think so many great things about you, but you haven’t reaped the rewards of it, why wait any longer? Why not take advantage of this opportunity?”
One of Arkansas’ many missed opportunities under Bielema came last year at LSU, a game the Razorbacks led late before then-freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings led the Tigers on a 99-yard scoring drive in the closing minutes.
Jennings capped the 31-27 comeback win with a 49-yard touchdown pass to Travin Dural with 1:15 remaining, a play still etched in the memories of Arkansas’ secondary.
”It was real painful, because we were right there to win in the last game last year,” Razorbacks safety Alan Turner said. ”So, it was real heartbreak for us because we wanted to end the year off right.”
Five things to watch as the Razorbacks try end their losing ways in the SEC:
TIGERS’ RECOVERY: The Tigers have experienced their own share of heartbreak this season, none worse than last week’s overtime loss to Alabama – a game in which LSU took the lead with less than a minute to play before a series of untimely penalties and miscues led to the 20-13 loss. Jennings, in particular, struggled against the Crimson Tide – completing only 8 of 26 passes for 76 yards. The sophomore has completed only 47.1 percent of his passes this season, but the Tigers’ focus this week has been more about bouncing back emotionally than the play of their quarterback. ”From what I’ve seen, Arkansas is definitely a hungry team,” LSU cornerback Jalen Collins said. ”They took Alabama down to the wire. We have to refocus. We have to put the past in the past. We can’t do anything about it.”
RUNNING DOWNHILL: Few defenses have been able to slow down LSU’s running game this season, with the Tigers fifth in the SEC with an average of 221.4 yards per game on the ground. Freshman Leonard Fournette leads the way with 736 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, but he’s facing an Arkansas defense that allows only 136.8 yards rushing per game. Also, the Tigers will be without senior Kenny Hilliard, who had 434 yards and six touchdowns before injuring his shoulder last Saturday against Alabama.
EARLY BOOT: The November meeting is the earliest the two teams have played since Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992. They traditionally played on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but the Battle for the Boot – nicknamed for the boot-shaped trophy given to the winner each year – was moved following the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M to the conference.
HARDENED DEFENDERS: In a 41-7 loss at Auburn on Oct. 4, LSU gave up 566 yards and gained only 280. In four SEC games since then, against Florida, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Alabama, LSU has allowed an average of 287.8 yards per game and 14.3 points per game, while gaining an average of 348.3 yards and scoring 23.5 points per game. LSU won three of those past four games, losing only to Alabama in overtime.
SECONDARY BOOST: Arkansas allowed a career-high 331 yards passing by Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott in its last game, but it’s expected to receive a boost in the secondary with the return of cornerback Henre’ Toliver. The freshman had been one of the most consistent performers in the Razorbacks secondary this season before missing the last two games with a bruised back.
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana contributed to this report.