In their regular-season finale, LSU travels to Fayetteville to take on SEC rival Arkansas in the Battle for the Golden Boot.
Coach Les Miles and his Tiger squad may not be in line to compete for the SEC championship but the campaign has still largely been a success for last season's national championship runner-up. The Bayou Bengals have won back-to-back games and are currently 9-2 overall and 5-2 in conference play. This matchup is only the fourth road game of the season for LSU which can earn its third consecutive 10 win season with a victory.
As for Arkansas, the Razorbacks' much anticipated season was derailed when Head Coach Bobby Petrino was let go amid controversy before the year began. Under interim coach John Smith, the Hogs, who were ranked as high as No. 8 in the polls early in the season, have stumbled to a 4-7 overall record, including a 2-5 mark against SEC foes. With a 45-14 loss to Mississippi State last weekend the Razorbacks were eliminated from postseason eligibility for the first time in three years.
This is the first series matchup in Fayetteville since 1992. LSU owns a 35-20-2 record overall against Arkansas.
On offense the Tigers are an old school team that likes to run the ball and utilize a short passing game. On the season, LSU is the fifth most prolific rushing team in the SEC, with 188 yards per game. However, the Tigers rank just 11th in passing, with 206 yards per contest. With that type of production LSU is near the middle of the pack in the SEC in terms of total offense.
There are a stable of running backs for Miles to utilize in the offense. The lead rusher is Jeremy Hill who has racked up 554 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
With the team pounding the ball on the ground, quarterback Zach Mettenberger has not had to put up a ton of numbers. On the season, he has completed 59% of his passes for 2,272 yards and 10 touchdowns to just 6 interceptions. He doesn't throw downfield very often, as he averages just 7.6 yards per pass attempt, the ninth lowest average in the conference. Mettenberger has not always had enough time in the pocket either as he has been sacked 23 times this season.
In terms of pass-catching threats for the Tigers, Odell Beckham has been the top receiver in total yards, while Jarvis Landry has been the more reliable receiver, especially on the underneath routes.
It's no secret that the strength of the Bayou Bengals resides on defense. While the offense manages games, the defense dominates them. On the season, LSU is the third ranked defensive unit in the SEC, a conference jam-packed with punishing defensive squads. The Tigers are surrendering just 281 yards of total offense per game, while constantly making plays on the ball with a league-leading 17 interceptions.
On the front line, Sam Montgomery and Anthony Johnson have proved to be difficult linemen for opposing offenses to stop. Linebacker Kevin Minter flies around all over the field and always seems to be able to make stops. In the secondary, Craig Loston and Tharold Simon have each collected three interceptions apiece.
The falloff on the offensive side of the ball has been a long one for Arkansas. The Razorbacks were the top-ranked offense in the SEC last season in terms of total yards and scoring, but this season the Hogs are just sixth in total yards with 416 yard per game and 12th in scoring averaging 24.5 points per contest.
Also falling this season is the draft stock of quarterback Tyler Wilson. Largely considered to be one of the top signal-callers, not only in the SEC but the country, he’s had a solid season, but not the type of year that has sparked a great deal of positive talk. Wilson has thrown for 3,028 yards and 20 touchdowns, while completing 62.5% of his pass attempts to go along with 12 interceptions.
Wilson really hasn’t spread the ball around particularly well to his receivers. That has really benefited SEC leading receiver Coby Hamilton, who has turned in a spectacular season with 80 receptions for 1,237 yards and five scores. No other player on the team has more than 22 receptions or 300 yards.
The running game also deserves some of the blame for the Razorbacks' fall from the offensive elite of the conference. Arkansas is gaining only 120 yards per game on the ground, the lowest mark among SEC teams. Dennis Johnson has been the most productive back with 727 yards and 8 TDs.
Such meager offensive numbers have been compounded by one of the conference's worst defenses. Other than Tennessee, there is no team in the SEC worse than Arkansas in both total yards allowed and scoring defense. The Razorbacks have not been nearly has opportunistic as LSU, having just 12 forced turnovers this season and a league-worst -17 turnover differential.
The defense could be even weaker this weekend with second leading tackler Rohan Gaines dealing with an injury. Safety Ross Rasner is the lead stopper while defensive ends Trey Flowers and Chris Smith are more than capable of getting to the quarterback.
This game would have been a classic matchup of strong defense versus prolific offense when looked at on the schedule in August. LSU has lived up to its end of that bargain, and will be able to man-handle the Razorbacks to keep the 10- win train rolling.
PREDICTION: LSU 31, Arkansas 17