Mallett, Arkansas face tough test in LSU defense
Ryan Mallett has made record-breaking almost a weekly occurrence in less than two full seasons at Arkansas.
He has set 37 school or stadium records in 24 games with the Razorbacks, and his career passing efficiency (158.6) is third in Southeastern Conference history,
For all of his success, Mallett may have never faced a test as difficult as the one he'll face on Saturday when No. 12 Arkansas (9-2, 5-2 SEC) hosts No. 6 LSU (10-1, 6-1) in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium.
The Razorbacks lead the SEC and are third nationally in passing offense, averaging 343.6 yards per game. Mallett, after missing much of a loss at No. 2 Auburn with a concussion, has been at the center of that attack for most of the season. The junior is averaging 297.5 yards passing per game, and his 305-yard effort last week in a double-overtime win at Mississippi State was the eighth time this season he's topped the 300-yard mark.
Last season against LSU, however, Mallett struggled for much of the game as the Tigers built a 17-6 halftime lead. Arkansas eventually rallied to send the game into overtime, where LSU pulled out a 33-30 win, but Mallett's numbers in the loss - 17 of 39 passing for 227 yards - were hardly up to his usual standards.
''Last year, they did a really good job of disguising their coverages,'' Mallett said. ''We made some adjustments in the second half, and that's when we started playing better in the passing game. What we've got to do is study last year's film and make sure we've got all the looks, and then study this year's film and just make sure we have everything down pat going into the game.''
While Arkansas is second in the SEC in total offense (491.5 yards per game), LSU is first in total defense, allowing only 286.9 yards per game. The Tigers, led by junior cornerback Patrick Peterson, lead the league in passing defense, allowing an average of 151.8 yards per game.
It's that defense that has helped LSU overcome an inconsistent offense at times this season as well as rebound from a loss at Auburn on Oct. 23.
''They don't give you anything,'' Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. ''They don't try to gimmick-blitz you and do any of that stuff. They make you beat them. They're very sound. You have to be able to line up and block them to run the ball, and you've got to work hard to get open and be accurate with your throws.''
Peterson has four of LSU's 14 interceptions this season, which is fourth in the SEC. The Tigers are also fourth in turnover margin, something they know could be key against Mallett, who has thrown 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season.
''It's going to be a fun game,'' Peterson said. ''I can't wait to see it. I know he's going to throw the ball at least 35 times, and hopefully I can get my hands on two of them.''
Even with leading receiver Greg Childs out for the season with a knee injury, Arkansas has averaged 532.5 yards of offense in its past two games. The Razorbacks have six receivers with 27 or more receptions this season, and all six have four or more touchdown catches.
Also, senior tight end D.J. Williams is the NCAA's active career leader in receptions (144) and receiving yards (1,789) by a tight end. Williams has 46 catches for 561 yards this season and is tied for second in school history with receptions, nine behind former Arkansas receiver Anthony Eubanks.
The challenge is one LSU is looking forward to.
''The defense as a whole, we're hungry,'' LSU cornerback Ron Brooks said. ''We have something to prove and we're playing with an edge.
''We know what we're up against and we know who we're facing, and I think that will be one of the main factors in us continuing to play with that edge.''
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in Baton Rouge, La., contributed.