Arkansas and LSU Going in Opposite Directions

Arkansas and LSU
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Arkansas’ trip to Baton Rouge to face LSU features two teams and programs that are heading 180 degrees opposite from each other. Arkansas is enduring its third consecutive losing season. The Razorbacks have won just one game in their last 22 versus the rest of the SEC. Their losses have included contests against Colorado State, North Texas, San Jose State and Western Kentucky. Meanwhile, LSU is undefeated and one more victory away from advancing to the SEC Championship Game and a lock for a berth in the College Football Playoff with a win in Atlanta.

Misery versus Ecstasy

This season has continued the nightmare from last year for Arkansas. The offense has looked lackluster against its six SEC opponents with 184.8 passing yards and 114.2 rushing yards on average per game. The Razorbacks have scored only five offensive touchdowns and are averaging two turnovers per game. Those shortcomings have destroyed any hope to beat anyone in the SEC. The Hogs have thrown two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in those six games. The defense has not done its part either by allowing 206.3 passing yards and 265.7 rushing yards on average plus 29 touchdowns in six SEC matchups.

In contrast, LSU’s offense looks unrecognizable from what it has been for more than a decade. The Fighting Tigers have passed for at least 293 yards per game. They have compiled 350 or more yards through the air in seven of ten contests. Joe Burrow has thrown 38 touchdowns during the season, averaging 3.67 per game versus SEC opponents. He has tossed just six interceptions among his 341 passing attempts. They have not neglected the running game, having exceeded 100 yards on the ground in all but one contest along with 21 rushing touchdowns. As was the case last season, the Tigers have protected the ball, having turned it over only 11 times in ten games.

Arkansas’ Fateful Decision

The dichotomy between Arkansas and LSU extends beyond the current season. Arkansas perennially contended for the championship of the Southwest Conference. As a charter member, the Razorbacks won 14 SWC championships in football, third-most in the history of the conference. Seventy-five years later, the university’s athletic administration decided in 1990 to leave the SWC and join the SEC. That decision, though profitable and wise in light of the SWC’s dissolution after the 1995 season, put Arkansas at a competitive disadvantage compared to its new colleagues.

When Arkansas joined the Southeastern Conference as a football-playing member in 1992, the conference set up the Razorbacks as LSU’s opponent for the regular-season finale. Everyone else in the SEC had an in-state foe or an opponent in a bordering state to conclude the scheduled games. It made sense to do the same with the new arrival.  So the SEC matched Arkansas against the Tigers. LSU was phasing out its annual series against Tulane and had no in-state SEC rival. Roy Kramer and his crew in the SEC’s headquarters in Birmingham even tried to develop a rivalry with the creation of a trophy, the Golden Boot.

Arkansas and LSU renewed their long-dormant series in Arkansas’ inaugural SEC season. They had not faced each other since the Cotton Bowl at the end of the 1965 season. That meeting at the end of November of 1992 was their first in the regular season since a matchup on November 24, 1956, in Shreveport. They had not faced each other in Baton Rouge since meetings in 1906 and 1907.

Since the Razorbacks’ first season competing in football in the Southeastern Conference, they have struggled for the most part. In 28 seasons of playing in the SEC, Arkansas has finished with just 14 winning seasons. Only three times have they won ten or more games in a season during that span. They did win the SEC Western Division in 1995, 2002 and 2006. However, they lost all three trips to the SEC Championship Game. They failed to score more than a field goal in the first two appearances.

The Directions of These Teams and Programs

LSU currently leads the series, 39-22-2. In Baton Rouge, LSU holds an advantage of 11-3-1. In meetings as SEC members, LSU leads 17-10.

During the 20 most recent seasons, Arkansas has had seven head coaches. Two of those took over during two different seasons after the resignation of Houston Nutt and the firing of Chad Morris. Players could not be blamed for wondering about who will take over as head coach. Everyone else connected to the Razorbacks’ football program will be pondering that. Some players might be more focused on where they would like to transfer. Everyone knows they will be playing solely for pride with no possibility of a bowl game.

Meanwhile, LSU has every reason to play and strive for a victory. With a win over Arkansas, the Fighting Tigers would wrap up the SEC West divisional title. They would maintain their status among the top four teams in the College Football Playoff Committee’s rankings. They can also aim for padding Burrow’s statistics considering that he appears to be the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. Additionally, they can win their fifth SEC football championship during the 28 seasons during which Arkansas has yet to win one.

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