- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Welcome to another themed game for LSU.
First, we had “The Game,” which was all about defense. Heading in, we expected two sledgehammers to furiously crash into each other in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and that’s exactly what we got with only field goals as scores.
This week, with the SEC and possibly the national championship on the line, the top-ranked Tigers (11-0, 7-0) are involved in another name game with No. 3 Arkansas (10-1, 6-1).
LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo labeled this “The Game: Part 2,” but the Offense-Defense Bowl might be more appropriate.
Everywhere you look, pure speed drives the hearts of these two teams.
“The first thing I would say about this game is that there are a lot of athletes on the field,” LSU linebacker Ryan Baker said.
“I look at it like it’s the battle of the athletes.”
LSU sports a track team in its secondary with the likes of Morris Claiborne (a Thorpe Award finalist) and Tyrann Mathieu (a Bednarik Trophy finalist) patrolling the field, along with Ron Brooks or Brandon Taylor.
And if Eric Reid (thigh) is healthy enough, the Tigers will have more than enough speed to keep up with Arkansas’ electrifying passing game.
Entering Friday’s super showdown in Baton Rouge, La., LSU ranks third in the SEC in passing defense, allowing 158 yards a game and has given up a league-low five touchdowns through the air.
Equipped with his talented quartet of receivers, Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson can get five touchdowns in a single game.
Joe Adams, who is still spinning and cutting past Tennessee defenders, might have more moves than any other receiver in the league when he’s in space. Jarius Wright has been the league’s most consistent receiver and always looks a step faster than the competition.
Both rank in the top eight in the SEC in receiving.
“We’re certainly concerned about big plays in any secondary,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “You want to cover and make sure those receivers are covered. Then you like to get in his backfield just as often as you can. The good thing is that we think we have guys that can do that.”
Wilson, who is the SEC’s leader in passing (292.3 yards per game), has his offense running better than ever. With the Razorbacks right in the middle of BCS talks, Wilson has averaged 296 yards and has thrown eight touchdowns to two interceptions in his last three games.
During that span, Arkansas’ offense has generated nearly 500 yards of total offense a contest. And for a team that has been more popular for its passing game, the Hogs have actually generated a respectable running game as well.
This looks like the offense we expected to see at the beginning of the year and now it must take on one of the nation’s best defenses. In 44 quarters, LSU’s defense has held opponents without a touchdown in 35 of them, including the last seven.
Excuse the cliché, but something truly has to give Friday.
To prepare for Arkansas’ offense, Baker said the defense has reviewed film from the Oregon game. The Ducks, who were overwhelmed by the Tigers in the season opener, have similar speed despite offensive differences.
Baker knows Arkansas is at its best right now, but LSU isn’t intimidated.
“It doesn’t put a strain on the defense at all,” he said. “Guys are looking forward to the occasion. We’ve been known to rush the passer and play pretty good coverage downfield (at the same time). Playing a team like this, we have to rise to the occasion to prove that we can handle an offense like this.”
Maybe it’s the Hogs who should be nervous.
Last time Arkansas tangled with a highly rated defense, the Hogs went flat. Against Alabama, Arkansas was held to just 226 yards and had two turnovers.
To Baker, getting to Wilson and eliminating the running game are key. It helps that LSU’s front seven can move as well. There are some track star candidates up front too that ready for the chase.
“Our defense does not allow an opponent to go down the field routinely,” Miles said.
Baker said that Arkansas’ up-tempo look is a challenge, but the Tigers have aspirations that stretch beyond stopping the Hogs. An SEC title and a national title are on the line. It’s that idea that fuels this defense.
“This makes the résumé look good, but in the long run our thoughts are further down the road and guys are really focused on that,” he said.
1dDavid Ching and Edward Aschoff