FAYETTEVILLE, AR (WAFB) - LSU's game at Arkansas on Saturday has generated just a small fraction of the national hype and interest of last weekend's heavyweight bout against No. 1 Alabama. But in many ways, you can argue this contest is even more important.
The Tigers need to stop losing to the Razorbacks, period. And they also need to display an understanding that the season actually continues after playing the Crimson Tide.
A loss to the Razorbacks and interim head coach Ed Orgeron's chances of keeping the job full-time are basically shot. The strong general consensus is that losing to Alabama hardly kills Orgeron's candidacy (the Tide have won 21 straight games for crying
out loud) but he has no margin for error. Orgeron, however, can differentiate himself from the jettisoned Les Miles and prove things can be different moving forward, IF the Tigers give an inspired effort and win. Winning convincingly, obviously, would be a giant
step and prove he can resurrect the team's collective spirit after such a demoralizing outcome.
Tiger fans know the recent history between LSU and Arkansas painfully well. The Tigers are a somewhat miraculous Anthony Jennings to Travin Dural touchdown pass away from losing three straight games to the Hogs. Arkansas has beaten LSU in the last two meetings
by a combined score of 48-14, with both games coming after the Tigers lost to Nick Saban's Tide. The Tigers' last trip to Fayetteville was one of the more miserable LSU performances in recent history, as Arkansas snapped a 17-game SEC losing streak in the frigid
cold with a 17-0 triumph. LSU's offense was likewise in the deep freeze, gaining a pathetic 123 yards of total offense. Razorback fans stormed the field and then Tiger freshman running back Leonard Fournette walked off it with just 9 yards rushing on five carries. It was simply brutal.
LSU currently finds itself in almost the exact same position as that 2014 Tigers team. LSU just gave a valiant effort at home in Tiger Stadium against the Crimson Tide, before the contest got away from the Tigers late and handed LSU its third loss of the year. The Tigers now need to decide if they're heading towards another five-loss season and a Music City Bowl berth, like they did two years ago or perhaps a 9-3 overall finish with an appearance in a much more prestigious postseason contest. Senior linebacker Duke Riley spoke of the possibility of being in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, something that has certainly motivated him and his teammates.
By the way, having a game cancelled for the second straight season really stinks for LSU. Last year, lightning prevented the Tigers from playing McNeese State and from LSU finishing with a 10-3 overall mark. This season, the LSU - Florida fiasco wiped the South Alabama contest off the Tigers' slate and, at this point, gives them zero chance to reach 10 wins again. But I digress.
Orgeron, to his credit, didn't make the Alabama game too big last week. All the clever motivational tactics were there and he certainly did everything in his power to have the Tigers sky high. At the same time, Orgeron seemed measured enough to communicate it
wasn't an all or nothing scenario for LSU. And the players we've interviewed understand Orgergon's future with the LSU program depends on the Tigers' final three games of the regular season. They know they must win to earn him the job full-time. The players seem to want Orgeron to have the interim tag removed and lead LSU for years to come. Some skeptics may point out the same was true for Mike Archer in the late 80s, but let's judge each situation differently.
Saturday night won't be easy. The schedule makers do LSU no favors in the placement of this game. Arkansas and its fans want to beat LSU just as badly as the Tigers wish to defeat Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. It's just been very hard for LSU to counter with that same kind of animosity. It has seemed artificial and manufactured from the Tigers' point of view, just like the giant "Boot" trophy the two teams are playing for this weekend.
But the time is now for the Tigers to eye a Top 10 finish in the national polls and to finish this campaign strong. There is no way LSU can be as motivated this week as the Tigers were against Alabama. Last Saturday night, Tiger Stadium was electric. It's not humanly possible to match that. But the Tigers can certainly be competent. Arkansas has a good team and talent, but there's absolutely no way the Razorbacks should beat LSU for a third straight year. That hasn't happened since 1927-29, by the way. LSU can sleep after the
game and a victory, not during it.
Otherwise, another mediocre LSU season will soon be in the books.