By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Our 4-5 LSU Fightin' Tigers will take on eternal rivals Arkansas this Saturday night at Death Valley, on the back of a last second defeat to Alabama. The Tigers will head into this game knowing another loss could spell the end of any bowl game ambitions for the second straight season, an absolute unimaginable result following 2019.
The Tigers enter the Arkansas game with questions swirling around their two young QBs, 2021's starter, sophomore Max Johnson & freshman Garrett Nussmeier, rising from 4th string QB behind Johnson, Brennan & Finley to now becoming a near starter, it's been a wild ride Nuss enjoyed throughout 2021.
The plan is for Max to start, but due to Johnson's regressions & nonstop physical beating over the past weeks, as well as Garrett Nussmeier's desire to leave his red shirt in jeopardy, the confident, technically strong freshman out of Flower Mound, Texas could take the job out from under him.
While the Tigers' struggles on offense cost them victory @ Alabama, all LSU fans should be concerned about the wear and tear on our already depleted, bone thin defensive unit.
With these factors in mind, this week, Coach Orgeron announced he only practiced the players in pads for two days, opting to let the team recover before their next primal SEC test....but it doesn't help now that both O-Linemen Ed Ingram and Chasen Hines are unavailable for this game.
Regardless....there is one silver lining.
For once on the injury front, LSU receive a boost with the returning presence of Cordale Flott back at corner, the future high octane NFL Draft pick looking to be "fresh and ready for Saturday" according to Orgeron.
Flott's expert, versatile coverage will be a welcome returning asset for Corey Raymond's decimated DBU...and he may be asked to square up against one of the best wide outs in America:
Arkansas WR Treylon Burks is now at 799 yards and 8 TDs, still a score below LSU's WR Kayshon Boutte (who's been out for four weeks now).....
Burks is a massive weapon, and yes, Flott or McGlothern's coverage vs Burks could take the headlines, however...focus on how much our defense might depend on Cordale Flott and Dwight McGlothern's strong outside tackling abilities.
Speaking of tackling, that mean and vicious Tiger defense from last Saturday must show up vs Sam Pittman's Razorbacks' OL, busting up their run schemes, making plays in the backfield & forcing turnovers.....or it could be a long night:
The Arkansas offense under QB K.J Jefferson isn't some complex, spread attack, but they aren't pure meat and potatoes either, sporting weapons primarily in their platoon backfield.
Combining for 16 rushing scores on the season as a team, backs Trelon Smith, Dominique Johnson and QB K.J Jefferson have all rushed for 4+ scores apiece, Johnson leading the way with 6 to his name, all as 4 different Razorback rushers have amassed 400+ yards on the season....the aforementioned 3 backs, plus Raheim Sanders.
As an offense, Sam Pittman's hogs up front are clearing ass out of the way to the tune of 244.3 yards per game and 5.3 each carry. Trust me, if one back isn't getting the job done, Pittman will have no problem throwing in another one of his carousel of backs. There's plenty of games this season where Arkansas used 9, even 10 different rushers.
This squad ran for 333 yards on Texas notably, a game where Arkansas' rushing attack vs the Longhorns' defense became comical; once again they amassed 324 vs Ole Miss, and are right at or over 200 yards for every other week this season, except Georgia.
Can the LSU defense shut down Arkansas' rushing attack much like they dominated Florida's then-Top 5 rushing game?
After shutting down Florida's best rusher, QB Emery Jones, to 1.6 yards per carry, leveling the team at a then-season low 138 yards on the day, as well as destroying Alabama last week (where LSU's depleted defense surrendered a historic 6 yards), don't count out Daronte Jones' improving, though still injury-riddled defense.
To the other side of the ball...
Arkansas have had some defensive struggles, allowing 52 points in a loss to Ole Miss, 38 during a defeat to Auburn, 37 to Georgia, but for the most part Barry Odom's defense have been a mostly disciplined unit, holding 4 teams to 17 points or fewer, 3 of which scored 10 points or less.
A few players for LSU's offense to watch out for?
Appearing in 7 games, Missouri transfer DL Tre Williams already records 6 sacks on the season, DB Montaric Brown leads the team with 3 of their 8 total INTs, while safety Jalen Catalon remains one of the premier defenders in all of college football.
Catalon also tried to behead Kayshon Boutte last year over the middle.....we need some vengeance there. Watch below how Boutte holds on to the football, even after & during an obvious concussion.
If anything, Arkansas are physical, violent as well as tough on defense, operating at an optimum concerning the effort department on each snap....if LSU are to have success through the air, they'll need to routinely put the ball on target, passing guys into space.
If QB Max Johnson wants to win his starting spot back, or more importantly the team's confidence in his abilities, throwing some early completions on time & in rhythm to Jack Bech, Malik Nabers or Brian Thomas Jr would go a long way to ensuring he stays out there longer than freshman Garrett Nussmeier.
Meanwhile the freshman gunslinger is one strong, high energy drive from taking over the job, at least vs Arkansas, and what an opportunity it could be for the Texas-native.
Both sons of NFL quarterbacks, Max and Garrett are friends who will now be forced to compete for the job which was solely Johnson's throughout fall camp.
Now, #5 is after the starting job, red shirt or not. Nuss envisions a window of opportunity where he can separate himself & his talents from Max Johnson, not only looking to prove who should start vs ULM or A&M, but making a big point about who should lead the team during 2022.
At running back, LSU's Ty Davis-Price continues to rattle off strong numbers, big plays, and elite level performances in spite of his team's struggling offensive line, closing in on 1,000 yards;
Sitting at 731 yards and rushing for 5.1 per rush, grabbing over 100+ vs Alabama, Florida and Kentucky, when TDP has grabbed over 15 carries, he's gone for over 100 yards in all but one game (Vs Ole Miss), scoring every time he reaches the 15 touch mark.
Will LSU be able to have any success running the football without Ed Ingram at left guard, sporting a banged up left tackle position carousel of names (Dellinger or Wire usually), and missing Chasen Hines at right guard?
I think OL Coach Brad Davis can find suitable replacements in Marlon Martinez at right guard, a sophomore who should be starting over Chasen Hines at right guard anyway. Then at left guard, to cover for the loss of Ed Ingram, watch out for Kardell Thomas to potentially take over the NFL-bound Ed Ingram's spot for the final few games.
It could be a big moment for Kardell, especially if he can show off any bit of the athleticism he displayed during his celebrated high school career.
Against Arkansas, surrendering just 156 per outing at 4.1 per clip, a slightly above average rushing defense, LSU's OL has an opportunity to impose their will with some new blood along the trenches, looking to potentially unleash TDP.....of course, backed by the help of freight train of Saban stain TE Jack Mashburn.
LSU's game plan should be based around hitting Jack Bech on easy, layup crossing routes, where Jack can get into open space and take off after the catch, Get him the damn football, every time #80 touches the ball, something great happens for LSU.
Whoever is able to get Jack the football should play for LSU in 2021.
Then, we need to be able to take deep shots over the top to Bech, Brian Thomas Jr & Malik Nabers, we aren't forcing secondaries to cover every blade of grass....that's unacceptable.
I have a feeling it could be a really entertaining, back and forth game here if Pittman's Arkansas come out attacking; LSU will have no choice but to follow them down an aggressive rabbit hole of offensive fantasia.....could that put the football in Nussmeier's hands more than Max Johnson?
We'll see....remember, Nussmeier also has a propensity to turn the football over, though his arm is no doubt sharper than Max's, plus he's been clean thus far regarding turnovers during 2021. I'm wondering how Garrett will rise to the situation after his frustration during Alabama's 4 close quarters.
Can Max rebound?
Could Max come out of the traps with a blistering showcase of his talents at home, in front of the critical LSU crowd, taking down Arkansas?
Anything is possible at Death Valley on a Saturday night.....
At this point, it doesn't matter what anyone says at a podium, it won't matter who's father talks to which coach.......it's about winning games.
MAX JOHNSON: 201, 2 TDs
GARRET NUSSMEIER: 277, 2 TDs
TDP: 131 Yards, 1 TD
JACK BECH: 177 Yards, 3 TDs
BRIAN THOMAS JR: 76 Yards, 1 TD
B.J OJULARI: 1.5 Sacks, 2.5 TFLs, 1 FF
CORDALE FLOTT: 1 INT, 7 Tackles
JAQUELIN ROY: 1 Sack, 3 Pressures
NEIL FARRELL JR: 1 FR, 0.5 Sack, 2 QB Hits, 6 Tackles
JAY WARD: 1 PDs, 8 Tackles
DAMONE CLARK: 9 Tackles, 1 Sack, 2.5 TFLs
PIG CAGE: 2 PDs, 5 Tackles
CAM LEWIS: 9 Tackles, 1 TFL
MIKE JONES JR: 0.5 Sack, 1.5 TFL, 4 Tackles
DWIGHT MCGLOTHERN: 5 Tackles, 1 Catch Allowed
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2021 Uninterrupted Writings Inc
SHOUTOUTS: Chelsea, Michelle Bech, Stacie Davis-Price, Denean, Nursekort, Kevin Howell, ADIESEL, Byrdman,