TSD's Hunter Paniagua previews the games inside the big game Friday when Zach Mettenberger and the…
Keys to the Game: Arkansas
Take advantage of Arkansas through the air.
On the season the Hogs have been a lot more susceptible to the pass than the run. The starting back four for Arkansas consists of one sophomore, two freshmen and a junior. With the success so many others have had testing that secondary, expect LSU - and an improved Zach Mettenberger, now playing with confidence - to take the same cue. Yes, LSU will give the Razorbacks a healthy dose of Jeremy Hill and Spencer Ware, but big chunks of yards are available through the air.
Battle the elements.
Back before the season began, which seems like such a long, long time ago (especially for Arkansas), I thought this game spelled trouble for LSU. One of the biggest reasons was the atmosphere and weather that Fayetteville would bring. Now, with the Hogs on the decline, the atmosphere - and general rowdiness of the crowd - probably won't be the factor I expected. But the weather may well be. The latest projection is for a high of 52 degrees on Friday. Before game's end, things are likely to settle in to the high 30s, and a mist could accompany the cold. That's not LSU football weather. Making sure the team is ready and prepared for something different from the norm will be crucial, in my opinion.
Pressure Tyler Wilson.
The young LSU secondary has been the biggest point of concern for the defense during the last few games. Things won't get any easier Friday against Tyler Wilson, who, despite a losing record, is still one of the top passers in the SEC. The defensive backs can get some help if the defensive line can apply pressure on Wilson. Forcing him to make quick decisions and throw on the run will give the secondary an easier time in shutting down the pass.
LSU hasn't struggled getting to the quarterback this season, but with the amount of talent along the defensive line, ranking third in the SEC doesn't seem high enough. Sacks have come in bunches lately, typically toward the ends of games (Anthony Johnson and Lavar Edwards' sacks for example). If the line wants to help the secondary against Wilson, it will get to him frequently and consistently throughout the contest.
Wake up from the Tryptophan slumber.
These post-Thanksgiving contests between Arkansas and LSU have provided fireworks in recent years. Disregard Arkansas' 4-7 record, because this game usually provides nailbiters. Aside from last year's 41-17 victory by LSU, the previous six games had all been decided by eight points or less. Factor in the game's location in the state of Arkansas, where LSU hasn't won since 2006, and that all adds up to a closer-than-expected contest between the Razorbacks and Tigers.
LSU can't take Arkansas lightly in this one. Even though the Razorbacks have little to play for in terms of bowl eligibility, expect the coaches will show up to finish the season on a high note before most venture to other opportunities. The players will also find a sense of pride in the seniors' final home game. LSU must come out firing on Friday and overcome any lingering effects from Thanksgiving dinner and an emotional Arkansas team.
Pressure Tyler Wilson often.
Using last week's matchup with Ole Miss as an example, the average person can see that pressure must be applied to the opposing teams quarterback. Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson enters the game this week leading the SEC in yards per game with 302.8. He also ranks third in the conference with 3,028 yards passing and 20 touchdowns. Last week, LSU struggled in the first half, and most of the third quarter, to get pressure on Ole Miss quarterback, Bo Wallace. Wallace ended the game with 310 yards through the air, due in large part to a lack of pressure through the first three quarters.
LSU will need to get pressure on Tyler Wilson early and often on Friday. They can't allow him to settle into a rhythm and get any sort of comfort level. If that happens, it could be another long day for the LSU secondary. Getting pressure on him early will not only set the tone of the game for the Tigers, but it will also take a lot of pressure off of a defensive backfield that has struggled in recent weeks. While it will be necessary to apply pressure to Wilson, it may not be easy to get to him. Arkansas ranks third in the SEC in sacks allowed, while LSU shares an identical ranking in the sacks made category. Once again this game will be dictated by the play in the trenches and the LSU defense getting pressure to force mistakes.
Get off to a fast offensive start.
Facing a team with a potent offense like that of Arkansas, LSU must get off to a fast start on the offensive side this week. Over the past two weeks, LSU has started games slowly on offense and ended up playing from behind for part of the game. With Tyler Wilson and the Arkansas receivers being such a potent threat, the LSU offense can't enter this game relying on the defense to win the game for them.
Heading into Friday's matchup, I fully expect to see a much more balanced LSU attack than last week. LSU will need to use Jeremy Hill and Spencer Ware effectively to open up the passing game for Zach Mettenberger. Given that Arkansas ranks 13th in the SEC in total defense, LSU should be able to start fast. Arkansas also ranks dead last in the SEC in passing defense, allowing an average of 292.1 yards per game. If Zach Mettenberger can match his performances from the past few weeks, it could get ugly early for the Razorbacks. Also, getting off to a hot start on offense will allow the Tiger defense to better control Arkansas, being that they will be forced into throwing at that point.
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