The Arkansas Razorbacks might have been lucky to escape the Mississippi State game with a win, but Sam Pittman’s team has been playing quality football most of the year.
By Matt Zemek
The Razorbacks hired Pittman without much fanfare, but he is quietly been proving his worth and showing that he might be exactly what the Razorbacks need to take that next step. K.J. Jefferson didn’t have his best game against the Bulldogs, which shows that this can be a really good team if he manages to improve. It’s a learning process, but Jefferson has learned to take care of the football. He is likely to ripen into a better player and a more formidable force next year. We still have the rest of this season to worry about, however, so let’s see what the Razorbacks need to do in order to beat a very confusing LSU team which is still trying to figure out what its identity actually is.
1 – Hit Max Johnson early and often
There’s no getting around it, the LSU offensive line is atrocious. Max Johnson has played in one game this year when he wasn’t sacked, and he has played only two total games in which he hasn’t been sacked multiple times. On the year, Johnson has been sacked an astonishing 23 times. That has caused the Tigers to be tied for 96th in the nation in sacks allowed. They’ve also lost 152 yards due to sacks, and they average giving up 2.78 sacks per game. This gives Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom pretty clear marching orders for this weekend’s game. If a team is that bad at protecting the quarterback, exploit it early and exploit it often. If Arkansas can’t take advantage of this, LSU has more than enough talent to beat the Razorbacks.
2 – Work with K.J. Jefferson to find out what he needs to play his best
There is a lot of whiplash when one looks at Razorbacks quarterback KJ Jefferson’s stats. On some days, he is throwing for 250-320 yards in a game. On other days, he’s not even breaking the 200-yard mark. Five of K.J. Jefferson’s nine starts in 2021 have involved a “below the Mendoza Line” reality in which Jefferson has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in a game. The odd part is that only three of those games have been against ranked opponents. He struggled against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and had a really difficult game against Rice. Neither of those teams scream defensive juggernaut, but while he did throw four touchdowns against Pine Bluff, it’s the 58.8% completion rate which is hard to wrap the mind around. Maybe Pittman needs to sit down with his signal caller and find out what in the offense (if anything) is causing him to struggle at times.
3 – Use the full stable of running backs
In addition to what K.J. Jefferson provides with his legs, the Razorbacks also have Dominique Johnson, Treylon Burks, Raheim Sanders and Trelon Smith who can change a game in a heartbeat. Smith, Sanders, Jefferson, and Johnson all have more than 400 rushing yards on the year. When a team is getting that kind of production out of the backfield, it’s a pretty good indicator that the coaching staff needs to use it to its advantage. As bad as LSU has been this year, the Tigers stood tall and limited Alabama to six rushing yards, an amazing performance for a defensive unit which really stepped up. Arkansas needs to identify fairly early on in this game which back is going to give LSU the most problems and then feed him accordingly, while balancing out the attack with other playmakers and K.J. Jefferson’s legs.