Who has the edge?
Tyler Wilson is in a two-man race for All-SEC honors with Georgia’s Aaron Murray. He leads the league with 3,215 passing yards and ranks second with 21 touchdown passes. More importantly, Wilson has guided the SEC’s best offense with very few mistakes, throwing only five interceptions in 385 attempts. Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee give the Tigers a tough tandem to defend because of the differences they bring to the field, but they aren’t in the same stratosphere as Wilson individually or together.
Running back: LSU
With Knile Davis healthy, this might be a different story. But he’s not and beside Dennis Johnson (91-606 rushing, 3 TDs), the Razorbacks have been pretty ordinary on the ground. LSU, meanwhile, has shown the ability to come at opposing defenses in waves with Spencer Ware and Michael Ford already over 600 yards and Alfred Blue nearing 500. When any of these three needs a break or in specific situations, the Tigers can turn to Kenny Hilliard for short-yardage runs.
Receivers/tight ends: Arkansas
There’s simply too many options and too much talent across the board for Arkansas not to run away with this category. The Tigers might have the best pure pass-catcher and also the biggest game-breaking threat in Rueben Randle, but after that they are good but not great. The Hogs are great at two receiver spots with Jarius Wright and Joe Adams and at tight end with Chris Gragg, and led by that trio, Arkansas’ receivers have been more consistent than their LSU counterparts.
Offensive line: Even
Take away the worst offensive day of the season for both teams –against Alabama for each – and both lines have been effective and dominant at times. Both have allowed one sack in roughly every 20 pass attempts and have cleared the way for running games that average 4.8 (LSU) and 4.5 (Arkansas) yards per carry. After 60 minutes on Friday, this evaluation might change, but heading in the o-lines are a standoff.
Defensive line: LSU
If there’s an area to wear Arkansas down, it’s against the Razorbacks’ defensive line. Opponents are averaging 4.3 yards a rushing carry and 164.2 yards a game against the Hogs – Auburn produced 5.6 and 291, while Alabama was at 5.1 and 197. LSU, meanwhile, has suffocated opponent running games for the most part, limiting foes to 2.7 yards a pop. The Tigers have also recorded 19½ sacks from up front, paced by Sam Montgomery’s 7 and Barkevious Mingo’s 5.
Some nice progress by the Tigers’ backers the last few weeks, but not enough to close the gap on what sets up as the strength of Arkansas’ improved defense. Senior Jerry Franklin has been in on a team-best 87 tackles, Alonzo Highsmith ranks third with 66 and leads the Hogs with 10 tackles for loss and Destrehan product Jerico Nelson has turned in a solid season with 53 stops, 4½ sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery. Ryan Baker has notched 20 tackles the last three weeks and Kevin Minter has 19, and those two will be key in underneath pass coverage and creating an extra pass rush against Arkansas.
In a game where big plays will have to come from everywhere, this is where LSU has a major edge over the Razorbacks. With the Tigers likely to operate almost exclusively in the 4-2-5, watch for plenty of one-on-one coverage from the talented Tigers’ secondary and chances for that quintet to make game-changing plays. If LSU is able to make Wilson deliver throws quicker than he wants or force the Hogs to rely on their running game more, Ron Brooks and Tyrann Mathieu become big keys as blitzers.
Special teams: Arkansas
In the punting and kicking phases, the two teams are almost dead even. Brad Wing may be the SEC’s best punter, but Arkansas’ Dylan Breeding a close second. Drew Alleman is the league’s most reliable kicker this season, but Zach Hocker is just as valuable a weapon to the Razorbacks. Where Arkansas gets the upper hand is in the return games, anchored by Adams, Johnson and Marquel Wade. Adams has three punt-return TDs and leads the SEC with 16.2 yards a return. Johnson and Wade have one kickoff return for a score each and combine to give the Hogs the best kickoff return average at 24.3 yards.