State of the Hogs: Top 10 (LSU)

Arkansas and LSU meet at 7 p.m. Saturday night in Fayetteville. Here's the weekly Top 10 keys as written by publisher Clay Henry -- after a visit with Robert Flowers, father of Arkansas' senior captain.

It's hard to think of Trey Flowers as “sort of the runt” of anything. He's a hulk of a man at 6-3 by 270, not small for an SEC defensive end by anyone's standards.

But he's the little guy in the Flowers family. Robert Flowers, his father, is 6-6 by 330.

“It could be more than that depending on what was for dinner that night,” Robert laughed during a 45-minute phone interview ahead of the trip to Fayetteville for the LSU game. “I'm pretty big and so are most of my sons. They go from 6-6 all the way up to 6-9. Then, there's Trey, the small one.”

Trey, in an interview Wednesday night, chuckled and nodded that his big brothers are indeed big brothers, adding, “I'm sort of the runt.”

Robert will load those that can take off work for the last three road trips of Trey's college career, two to Fayetteville and then the trek to Missouri in the finale. Depending on how many can go, he'll gas up either an Econoline 350 customized van or an Expedition SUV, or both.

“The van has six captain chairs and a bench,” Robert said. “It rides nine. The Expedition rides seven.”

They took both for the drive from Huntsville, Ala., just 15 miles from the Tennessee border, to Auburn for the opener. They really needed a bus.

“Trey had 60 there for that game,” Robert said. “We had 40 in one group, all family with grand kids.”

Robert and Jacqueline Flowers have 10 children, seven sons.

“Then, you have my wife's family,” Robert said. “She has nine brothers and sisters. We had most of them there.”

It's clear that Trey has been a joy to raise. He's been a straight A student since junior high, always focused and always listening to Robert's wisdom.

“Trey always listened,” Robert said. “And, he knew what he wanted at age six. That's when he told me he wanted to be a pro football player. So that's what we set out for him and he did what I told him all the way.”

Trey beamed when his father was mentioned.

“He's definitely my role model,” Trey said. “He's the wisest man I know. He talks, I listen.”

There was a big step in that direction when the Senior Bowl extended an invitation earlier this week. There was irony in the announcement in the office of Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema.

“I got a text from Trey as soon as he was told by Coach Bielema,” Robert said. “It reminded me that we were going to see the Senior Bowl during recruiting when Trey was a senior. We were going to check out South Alabama and see the Senior Bowl. Then, he got a call from Arkansas and he took his last visit there instead. We didn't make it to the Senior Bowl, but now he's going.

“It's very exciting. We are elated.”

Trey remembers that weekend trip to Arkansas when he got the next to last scholarship that year offered by Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino.

“I took a leap of faith,” Trey said. “They did, too. It worked out for both of us.”

Robert Flowers hasn't been surprised by any of it.

“They didn't know what they were getting,” he said. “But I did. All he needed was a chance. Little did they know the kind of heart in the young man. That is what I always knew that could make him special.

“Even at the age of six, you could see it. He played everything so hard. It's heart that makes the difference.

“I always asked my kids what they wanted to be and he knew at six. I told him if you want it, we'll try to get it for you. I did the best I could for him. And, he's always been coachable and listens.”

That's what defensive line coach Rory Segrest said about Trey Flowers.

“So coachable,” he said. “You know what, he's had a lot of coaches, too. I just got back from his high school on a recruiting trip and the coaches there are all new this year. They weren't there when Trey played.”

Actually, it's been like that every year for Trey Flowers, at both Arkansas and in high school. He's had different head coaches, different position coaches and different coordinators almost every season.

“Trey had four different head coaches in high school,” Robert said. “Sometimes he had one for spring training and a different one in the fall. It was four different position coaches. And, it's been like that at Arkansas. He has learned from all of them.

“I reminded him the other day that he's going to have a different coordinator again next year (in the NFL). And, he told me that he would be training under someone for the Senior Bowl and for the combine and then change again after the draft. And it won't really matter to him. He'll learn from each one.”

Segrest gets that.

“When I got here, I was told about Trey, his ability, his character and his work ethic,” Segrest said. “And, it's all been there. He just comes to work every day, learns what he can learn every day. He's such a joy.”

Segrest felt Flowers studying him early on.

“There wasn't much talk at first,” Segrest said. “He hardly said a word. But he's just that type of a guy, a really good person who does a lot of listening. But he's going to try to do exactly what you tell him.”

Obviously, destined to be a team captain for his senior year, Segrest and Bielema encouraged Flowers to be more of a talker around teammates. That's not his nature, but he obliged.

“I would rather not say much,” Trey said. “But I realized how much my words impacted those around me. Why not open my mouth if it's going to help my teammates.”

Tight ends coach Barry Lunney said it's clear that the team follows Flowers.

“He's got all of the right qualities, work ethic especially,” Lunney said. “It helps that he's a great player, too.”

Robert Flowers remembers a visit with Tenarius “Tank” Wright, then a team captain, during Trey's freshman year.

“Tank told me it was six weeks into Trey's first year before he heard him say a word,” Robert said.

That produced a chuckle from Trey.

“Yeah, one day in our defensive end meeting room, Tank said, 'Do you talk?' I told him I did. It's kinda funny because I think Tank was like that, too, and coaches encouraged him to lead with some words at times. I'd rather do it with work.”

Robert said he told his son that there needed to be some talking to go along with the work.

“I think when Coach Bielema got here, he saw the work, but recognized his quiet nature was perhaps a weakness,” Robert said. “He just wasn't going to be a rah-rah guy. And, I think Coach B got some of that out of him. If there is something that Coach B has brought out of him, it's the ability to voice encouragement to teammates because they do listen to Trey.”

Obviously, head coach and player have bonded.

“I think we have,” Trey said. “He's a coach that we all feel passionate about because we feel his passion towards us as players. We know he cares about us.”

Bielema choked back tears at least twice in interviews while talking about Flowers. He had a hard time getting the words out while breaking the news at a media briefing that Flowers had received the Senior Bowl invitation. It was a happy moment when he brought Flowers to his office for the news.

“He was wearing a smile,” Flowers said, “but he didn't tear up. He just was excited to tell me the news. I came into the office and saw the Senior Bowl program by his desk so I kind of figured it out.”

Robert Flowers said it's the kind of stuff that was talked about when Bielema came to Huntsville last winter to explain the benefits of returning for Trey's senior year.

“First, the man is a player's coach,” Robert Flowers said. “Oh, yeah, we could see that from the time we had with him sitting at our kitchen table. What he said that day, it's worked out exactly what he said. He didn't promise wins, but he told us his stock would go up and it has.”

The Senior Bowl will be a nice treat, but there is unfinished business in the Ozarks first. Flowers wants a bowl for his teammates. Standing in the interview room wearing a Sugar Bowl fleece, he said the Hogs know they need two victories to become bowl eligible.

“I didn't earn this one,” Flowers said. “It's not mine. A teammate gave it to me, probably Tank. I did play in the Cotton Bowl and have some stuff from that trip.”

Robert Flowers said it's been fun making the trips all across the south to watch his son this fall.

“He's made me proud,” Robert said. “It's been a pleasure to watch him. We haven't missed all year. He's been a blessing, for sure.

“It's funny, his older brothers are now saying to me, they wished they had listened like Trey. If all of the rest of them knew what Trey knows, to listen, no telling where they would be. They battled me hard. I will say that the Lord sent me one who listened and I think Him for that. I was about to get tired!”

But this fall has been refreshing, even with the losses. It's that ability to keep his motor running that has made Trey Flowers a delight all season, even with the tough losses piling up in a 4-5 campaign. It's that motor that we'll start with in our Top 10 keys for the LSU game. We'll let Robert Flowers help us with the starting point.

Top 10 Keys (LSU)

1, Energy -- Robert Flowers has been on top of the pulse of this Arkansas team thanks to the insight provided by Trey week to week. He thinks this will be no different than most of the others, with high energy from the Razorbacks. Robert Flowers said, "I think what this team does well, is take each day one at a time. That's the interesting thing about what Coach Bielema has gotten these players to do, work each day. They are ready to go again this week. They will lay it on the line, just like they did at Mississippi State and against Alabama. I told Trey after the State game, 'You can't let this game hurt you for the next.' You play football for the love of the game, not what it says on the scoreboard. You just go out there and keep playing because you love it and I think that's what this team is all about. They love to play and they will play again this week. I think when they get the first one, the dam will break and they might get all three the rest of this season." It likely will come down to which team has the energy to play at the 7 p.m. kickoff. I think it will be the Hogs, led one more time by senior defensive end Trey Flowers. LSU will have to battle back from an emotional loss last week, while the Hogs licked their wounds with a bye. LSU had Alabama down until a late field goal set up an overtime victory for the Crimson Tide.

2, Stop the Run -- It's never that simple. The Hogs have given up big plays in the passing game to ruin the days when they did stop the run. But it will start with trying to slow down LSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette. The 6-1, 230-pound Fournette was rated as many the top high school player in America last year. He's made 736 on 152 carries for a 4.8 per carry. The Hogs counter with Jonathan Williams (137-877 and 6.4 average) and Alex Collins (134-840 for 6.3). LSU's strength is its pass defense with press coverage from a nice collection of corners. They lead the country in pass efficiency defense, but rank just 96th in sacks with 16. The Hogs have allowed just 10. LSU has been decent against the run, except against Wisconsin (268), Mississippi State (302) and Auburn (298). Alabama made just 106 against the Tigers.

3, Time of Possession -- Arkansas averages 34:15 in time of possession and that's first in the SEC, fourth nationally. LSU, also with a solid ground attack, is right there with the Hogs with time of possession of 33:51. Sometimes, this is a meaningless stat because of some of the quick strike offenses in the league. But it's significant for this game because both hang their hat on wearing out the opposition and keeping their own defense fresh. It could be a big factor in the fourth quarter in a grind-it-out game.

4, Cover Corners -- LSU has good ones in Tre'Davious White and Jalen Collins. Defensive coordinator John Chavis will keep them on an island in press coverage and bring the safeties to stop the run. And, he'll blitz his corners at times. That's the strength of a good, but not great LSU defense. The Hogs have been better here, especially with true freshman Henre' Toliver, a Louisiana product anxious to play against the Tigers. Toliver will likely draw LSU speedster Travin Dural, the man who burned the Hogs at the end of the game last year.

5, Kickers -- With ball control offenses taking center stage, it could come down to field position and the kicking game. Arkansas has not been solid in either the punt game or the field goal area this season. Adam McFain has won the placekicker job but missed a big kick last week at State. Sam Irwin-Hill (40.1) has done better of late after losing his job for a half against UAB. The Hogs will need both to play well if the 17-game SEC losing streak is to end. LSU's Colby Delahoussaye has been outstanding, making 10 of 11 with a long of 50. LSU punter Jamie Keehn averages 45.0.

6, Tight End Play -- LSU will try to lock down the outside receivers and if that brings the safeties into the box, could that be the opening the Hogs need for their superb tight ends, Hunter Henry and AJ Derby? Henry had a big game at Starkville with seven catches for a career-best 110 yards. Brandon Allen will need to find the tight ends against the Tigers. And, if LSU over plays the run, it could leave the tight ends open and maybe for an over-the-top play that's been missing of late.

7, Missing Link -- Could Korliss Marshall be the missing link, the speed guy in the Arkansas backfield? He's been suspended the last three games, but is back in the game plan this week. Marshall is the fastest player on the Arkansas team. He will play in four areas of special teams, including kickoff return where he's proven to be dangerous the last two years. Marshall has fresh legs for the stretch run. Jim Chaney, UA offensive coordinator, has had two weeks to work some new plays for Marshall. What will that look like in his attempt to be more creative? It could be just what the Hogs need to get over the hump.

8, Bad Penalties -- Both Arkansas and LSU have been snakebit with key penalties this year. LSU coach Les Miles spent 30 minutes on the phone with SEC supervisor of officials Steve Shaw on Sunday concerning some missed calls against Alabama. Miles was satisfied that he was right and the officials were wrong. It sounded a lot like what Bret Bielema said after the Alabama game when the refs ran the clock in error at the end of the game. Which team will have their focus and stay away from a key penalty? It might be a huge key in a close game.

9, The Louisiana Connection -- The Hogs have six players from the state of Louisiana. Wide receiver Jared Cornelius had an LSU offer, but elected to join high school teammate Santos Ramirez (both from Shreveport) at Arkansas. Toliver and linebacker Dwayne Eugene are another set from the same high school (Marrero) who left home for the Ozarks. Safety Alan Turner grew up in border town Junction City, but lived much of his life just a few hundred yards into Louisiana. Defensive linemen DeMarcus Hodge is another Louisiana product who will be in the game plan.

10, The Weather -- The forecast has gotten better in the last day. The weather should be a high of 40 on Saturday with falling temperatures during the game. But the threat of winter precipitation has all but been ruled out. It should be a fine night for football, but just on the chilly side with temperatures in the low 30s during much of the game. Still, a cold night favors the Hogs. The Tigers are used to practicing in warm conditions, nothing like what they'll face during the game. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has played the "weather card" during the week, taking his team outside in 30-degree weather for all of its practices, opting out of the heat of Walker Pavilion, the indoor facility. The Hogs have embraced that and believe they have an advantage.

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