The 23rd annual Battle for the Golden Boot kicks off on Saturday in Fayetteville when the No. 7 LSU Tigers (7-2, 4-2 SEC) travel north to face the Arkansas Razorbacks (2-7, 0-5) for the 175-pound golden trophy in an SEC West rivalry game.
The Tigers have the difficult task of going on the road after a physically and emotionally draining 29-0 home loss to No. 1 Alabama last week. The Crimson Tide dominated every aspect of the game, rolling up 576 yards of total offense to LSU’s 196 and holding the Tigers to 12 net rushing yards on 25 attempts. The Tigers need a pick-me-up win against the Hogs, and they must rediscover their once-formidable ground game that has fallen from 208 yards per game a year ago to 171 on average this season.
After four consecutive weeks of noticeable improvement for the Hogs, the Razorbacks got caught looking ahead to a bye week, falling 45-31 at home to Vanderbilt. The game was tight well into the fourth quarter, but with 4:40 left to play, the Hogs let a 31-24 deficit slip into a 14-point loss. Arkansas racked up the yards against the Commodores (447), but two costly Ty Storey interceptions and a worn-out Hogs run defense proved to be too much to overcome.
LSU at Arkansas
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: LSU -13.5
Three Things to Watch
1. LSU’s rush offense vs. Arkansas’ run defense
What started out as a salty run defense for the Hogs has drifted to a porous bunch that is allowing 206 yards per game on average over the last five games. The Tigers run game has been dominating at times, plowing over Georgia for 275 yards, but has dropped over the last two outings, totaling 122 yards combined.
The Razorbacks may have the best inside linebacker duo in the SEC in De’Jon Harris and Drew Greenlaw, but Greenlaw has battled minor injuries throughout the season, limiting his productivity. When LSU is at its best, Nick Brossette and Clyde Edwards-Helaire are a load to stop.
2. Ty Storey vs. Joe Burrow
The quarterback battle between Arkansas’ Ty Storey and LSU’s Joe Burrow means everything come third and long and inside the red zone. Neither quarterback is on the way to All-SEC honors this season, but both are serviceable when given time to throw. Burrow has thrown for more yards (1,728) than Storey (1,223), but Storey has thrown more touchdowns (9-6). Burrow is not as accurate as Storey (54-58), but Burrow has fewer interceptions (4-7). Where Arkansas’ defense might be able to make a difference is tricking Burrow into holding the ball, as he has taken 25 sacks this season to Storey’s 10.
LSU’s pass defense is not great, but it’s better than Arkansas’ statistically, allowing 210 yards per game to the Hogs’ 259. Both quarterbacks could make some noise in this game.
3. LSU’s motivation
Before the loss to Alabama, the Tigers were still in the running for an SEC West title, a berth in the SEC Championship Game and a possible spot in the College Football Playoff. What’s left to play for now is team pride, a top bowl game and head coach Ed Orgeron’s future in Baton Rouge. The Tigers have repeatedly shown their resiliency under Orgeron, never succumbing to a losing streak, but a road game with a pesky Arkansas team could sneak up on the Tigers.
Over the last four meetings, the series has been split 2-2 with LSU taking home the boot in back-to-back seasons. The Tigers have learned to get up for Arkansas after tough losses to Alabama.
LSU is as battle-tested as any team in the nation, having played six ranked teams, four of them ranked in the top 10. Knowing what to expect from Arkansas is better left to tumbling dice. The team that dropped 31 on No. 1 Alabama took losses to Colorado State, North Texas and Vanderbilt.
LSU is still in the running for a 10-win season, but it must shake off the disappointment of losing to Alabama. If the Hogs hang around early and avoid turnovers, this could be a fun one for four quarters.
Prediction: LSU 38, Arkansas 28
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades’ worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.