FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas and LSU teams rediscovering their positive identities last Saturday identify each other as opponents Saturday night.
At 6:30 p.m. Saturday on the SEC Network at their Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, coach Ed Orgeron’s LSU Tigers of undefeated 2019 national championship fame fallen on 5-5 2020 times and harder 4-5 overall/2-4 in the SEC 2021 times, host second-year coach Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks, 6-3, 2-3, in their SEC West game annually awarding Golden Boot Trophy to the winner.
The Razorbacks forged from off preseason radar to nationally No. 8 by the AP poll off a 4-0 start. They fell off the rankings map with three consecutive SEC defeats but blasted bowl eligible into the College Football Playoff Top 25 at No. 25, defeating then CFP 17th-ranked Mississippi State in last Saturday’s SEC West game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
“It’s very satisfying,” Pittman said. “It was a goal of ours to get back on the national scene. It’s a big deal in recruiting. We’re trying to make them forget we weren’t a very good team over the last five seasons (collectively 18-41). We certainly sent that out that we’re 25th.”
He looks for more, not just recruiting for the future but especially these players he coaches present. A Saturday success in Baton Rouge should only brighten the future of a team that played hard every game.
Pittman reminds that Arkansas, which beat three ranked teams in Texas, unranked now but 15th AP then, Texas A&M, AP seventh and CFP 11, lost to unanimous polls No. 1 Georgia, Ole Miss, 15th, CFP and Auburn 17th, CFP.
“We’ve beaten some really good football teams,” Pittman said. “And we lost to three really good football teams.”
Meanwhile, though a proud program not into moral victories, the Tigers got one last Saturday.
Orgeron said all predicted LSU “to be crushed” last Saturday playing in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. against the nationally No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide.
Instead, Nick Saban’s Tide clung for dear life to survive, 20-14.
Particularly since LSU has severed his head coaching ties there effective at this season’s end, Orgeron and his Tigers take understandable pride in rolling the Tide back from projected great expectations.
“You know, I felt we were a better team that night,” Orgeron said on Wednesday’s SEC Coaches/Media teleconference.
“I just felt it. I don’t know if they were expecting us to be that good, but usually an Alabama team is always playing to its peak performance. I don’t know if they played their peak performance or not, but we matched up pretty good. We held Alabama to six rushing yards.”
Orgeron’s Tigers were preseason nationally ranked. Even through these hard times they’ve had times living up to preseason expectations like their superb defensive play in their close but no cigar at Alabama and SEC successes over Florida with LSU running back Tyrion Davis-Price rushing 287 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries.
“We have high, high, respect for LSU,” Pittman said. “LSU has talent and playing very inspired football.”
And blitzing football after so often successfully blitzing Alabama and Alabama Heisman Trophy candidate freshman quarterback Bryce Young.
“I anticipate that they’ll use some of the things that they did against Alabama,” Pittman said. “But I think any great coach, which coach Orgeron is, they’ll do something in the same look but different results. They’ll give us the same look pre-snap and do something different.”
Third-year sophomore mobile starting quarterback KJ Jefferson often has beaten the blitz this season throwing to big-play receiver Treylon Burks (47 catches, 780 yards and eight touchdowns).
“A great player,” Orgeron said of Burks.
He notes it’s a different KJ Jefferson starting nine games as a third-year sophomore this season after backing up now NFL quarterback Feleipe Franks last season, then the redshirting true freshman thrust into a first-time late season start on a 2-10 Razorback team against LSU’s national champions.
“Always we knew he (Jefferson) could run,” Orgeron said. “But the way he’s throwing the ball… he throws the ball very well.”
The bowl bound Razorbacks arrive motivated in Baton Rouge.
With a night game crowd behind them and Louisiana native Orgeron obviously still motivating, the Tigers should be primed, too.
“I know this,” Orgeron said. “We said we’re going to fight to the end and I’m going to fight to the end and that was evident last week. I know Arkansas is going to play. I know their coach. So this is going to be a battle.”