Jim Harris: Razorbacks, Fans Don’t Need to Start Taking LSU Lightly


To what method of torture will Arkansas Razorback players, coaches and fans be subjected when LSU delivers the Hogs yet another loss in the ever-mounting streak of defeats at the hands of Southeastern Conference opponents?

Just when one thinks Arkansas has exhausted most ways to rip defeat from the jaws of victory, there’s probably a hundred more ways we haven’t seen yet. Hail Mary on the game’s final play? Fumbled punt to set up LSU’s only TD, but yet a winning score? A slip-down by a defensive back on a frosty portion of Reynolds Razorback Stadium, leaving one of the Tigers’ tall, speedy receivers wide open?

And, who’s to say this game will be taken from Arkansas in the final moments, anyway? The last time Razorback fans and national pundits were so sure that the Hogs’ long nightmare was soon to be over, Georgia scored 31 second-quarter points and routed Arkansas in Little Rock 45-32. Maybe this is the night LSU running back Leonard Fournette introduces himself to college football as next year’s top Heisman Trophy candidate, running through Arkansas’s defense the way Georgia’s Nick Chubb piled up 202 yards rushing. Perhaps true freshman Brandon Harris, now with a few more weeks to absorb the ways of college football, steps in and shows everybody what all the hub-bub was about during his high school career.

Understand, before anyone assails me as being negative here — I’m on record (KTHV, Channel 11’s “Hogzone,” with Clint Stoerner’s priceless look of incredulity is still in my mind) believing these last three games are where the Bret Bielema regime turns that proverbial corner and finishes with a three-game win streak, even breaking Missouri’s heart in the regular-season finale (possibly setting up a Liberty Bowl match of the ages with Texas, of all people). It all sets up for Arkansas to finish strong, with LSU and struggling, injured Ole Miss at home on back-to-back weeks, and moderately talented Missouri trying not to choke away the SEC East title while battling all the post-Thanksgiving tryptophan. I base it, too, having followed not only Razorback football, but college football in general for nearly half a century: This is where the well-coached programs who required a rebuild job show what’s to come in year three and beyond. Arkansas in 2014 has already shown, for every game except Georgia, that it can compete with the best in the SEC; it just can’t finish. Yet.

However, I would guess that within every Razorback fan’s mind, just as it does with me, a little voice says “Hold on, now” when thinking how Saturday’s game should be the first win in 18 SEC GAMES. The fans don’t need to be making plans as to where they’ll take the goal posts after the game, and needless to say the players shouldn’t be expecting an LSU to show up not at its best.

Yes, nearly every advantage Saturday favors Arkansas: the Hogs are at home, it will be bitterly cold for a team used to milder weather, LSU is coming off the heartbreak of giving away a game to Alabama, the Tigers are out of the race to make the SEC Championship Game, the Hogs had the week off to get well and prepare, Arkansas usually plays LSU very tough, etc.

But LSU has the edge in the most important advantage: The Tigers have better players throughout the roster.

Before we all go saying that LSU lacks a competent quarterback, did anyone notice that LSU’s quarterback efficiency rating places it 56th in all of college football, ahead of Arkansas’s ranking at No. 61? Sophomore Anthony Jennings may have only completed 8 of 26 passes against ’Bama, but at least he’s quarterbacked a few wins in the SEC, including one in the last two minutes against the Hogs last year.

We’re still not convinced Arkansas fourth-year junior Brandon Allen can win at quarterback in the SEC. It’s not like he hasn’t had chances already. A regulation tie was there when he somehow threw a fade route at least five yards short at Mississippi State in the Hogs’ most recent game. And, while everyone can’t point to Arkansas’s deficiencies on defense last year, or at wide receiver this season, or the inexperience in the offensive line, Allen is still the quarterback whose record as a starter in the SEC is 0-14 (‘Bama in 2012, 0-8 last year, 0-5 in 2014), which is pretty well unheard of in this league’s history. The defense that played relatively well for 58 minutes last year in Baton Rouge let Allen and the Hogs down with a blown coverage against Jennings from near midfield and cost that game; but a 7-yard throw on third-and-7 on the Hogs’ end minutes earlier, instead of 6 yards, would have meant a first down and more time burned off the clock before LSU’s 99-yard march in five plays.

If Allen has it in him, he must find that intangible and step up to be the kind of difference-maker Jennings managed to be last season against the Hogs, rescuing the Tigers as a backup to injured Zach Mettenberger in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Hogs around him are going to have to maintain a belief that is totally opposite from the second paragraph in this column. It’s not: “How are we going to lose this game?” On Saturday night, that desire to win so badly, as it has been described by Bielema after every soul-crushing loss, must never falter no matter what happens early, or in the second-quarter, or in the always-difficult fourth quarter for the Hogs.

Arkansas has one three-game season left in 2014. The open dates set up nicely for Bielema and his staff to approach the season in thirds again, like they did last year. In 2013, Arkansas looked like a much more competitive team in the final, three-game “season” than it had in the previous two. Alas, competitive didn’t equal victories because, frankly, of a lot of the same mistakes we’ve seen the Hogs make in first two sections of the schedule: fumbling in the red zone, blown coverages, fumbled snaps, untimely penalties. This year, Arkansas added poor special teams to the mix, mainly with missed extra points and field goals.

It’s time to move from being competitive to winning. Arkansas couldn’t ask for a better scenario for these last three games. Find more ways to lose, however, and it’s going to be a long and difficult off-season for everybody involved with Razorback football.

keep your eye on the lsu tiger


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