Arkansas vs LSU Line Shows More Distrust of Brian Kelly than Faith in Hogs

Brian Kelly, Arkansas vs LSU
photo credit: Nick Wenger / LSU Athletics

One of the first things you figure out when you’re a sports fan of a certain age and disposition is that the folks out in Las Vegas, they’re a lot smarter than you are. You might think you can out-duel the professional oddsmakers, but unless you’re playing straight when you make your bets, you’re going to lose as often as you win. Maybe even more as Vegas is a city built off those shattered hopes and dreams.

Hover around long enough, though, and you may find something you like, something that is just so darn enticing that you can’t help but be drawn in. Then, like a Mac Truck, that too-good-to-be-true pick bites you on the rear end. Your only saving grace being that the last bet you made just like it, the week before, paid off.

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These are the real stories of those who bet on sports. They’re not, however, likely to be the stories of Arkansas fans who bet on sports. Because Arkansas fans tend not to bet against their team. Sure, they might stay away from betting on the game, but anecdotally, you’ll hear stories about how it’s “just not right” to bet against one’s favorite team. 

The Curious Arkansas vs LSU Line

Maybe too bad for those folks. Last week’s Razorbacks line against Liberty turned out to be one of those such picks. The Flames were getting about two touchdowns (depending, of course, where and when you looked). The No. 23 team in the country was a two-score road dog to an SEC team that hadn’t looked like a Top 25 team since Week 2. It was fishy and few Hogs fans took Vegas up on the offer.

Well, if you missed, now’s your chance, because the Arkansas vs LSU line this week in the Battle of the Boot is just as curious.

LSU is just a three-point favorite against Sam Pittman’s bunch. 

The Tigers just beat Alabama – in overtime, granted – and are a Top-10 team. Their only two losses are a Florida State miracle in Week 1 and a handy defeat at the hands of Tennessee about a month ago. Their coach is no stranger to pressure games in pressure stadiums and LSU clearly isn’t the same team it was even a couple weeks back. Arkansas, meanwhile, has lost four of its last six games. The Crazies aren’t the only ones calling for changes to be made to the coaching staff. How is LSU just a three-point favorite?

Ohhhh, yeah. Roll it back.

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Man, it looks like a steal, doesn’t it? What does Vegas know that we don’t, though? Consider the line long enough and you’ll psych yourself out, then reverse-psych yourself out and back again. On one hand, it seems like a guaranteed should-play. On the other, maybe you’re aware enough to know that you’re not aware of what Vegas is doing.

Making Sense of the Spread

Maybe the bookies haven’t bought all the way into LSU yet, even with the Tigers’ seven wins in their last eight games. Even with owning victories over Ole Miss and Alabama, the casinos do not appear to be riding strong with Brian Kelly. They’re a group who have been used to seeing Kelly-coached teams struggle in big games until last week. One win does not turn the tide on that. And, actually, doesn’t it kind of make sense? Without getting too far into the advanced statistics – because, let’s be honest – that would run a lot of folks off, let’s take a gander at some of the underlying numbers that suggest what Vegas is doing with Saturday’s game isn’t all that crazy after all.

LSU has just the 43rd most efficient defense in the country. Arkansas’ offensive efficiency? Twelfth. When it comes to yardage, the Tigers are seventh in run defense and ninth in pass defense among teams in the SEC. Arkansas is sixth in passing and seventh in rushing. The suggestion is that the Razorbacks should be able to move the ball against LSU’s not-great defense. If the ball is moving, more chances for points will come. The more chances at points, the greater the chance you score more points than your opponent. Pretty simple. The flip side, of course, is that LSU’s offense picks up the sixth most yards in the conference while Arkansas gives up the 13th most. The Tigers, too, should have plenty of opportunities to score on Saturday. 

Probably there are measures of motivation that go into the line being as low as it is. Geography is certainly a factor, too. The kick time isn’t conducive to the big-game mentality, either. LSU isn’t used to 11 a.m. kickoffs. The rare times they’ve happened, they’ve gone badly. Combine that with Arkansas’ explosive offensive tendencies – Saturday against Liberty was, believe it or not, an outlier – and, yeah, the point-spread differential makes a little more sense.

LSU’s balloon is certainly on the float, as it were. The Tigers are rising. And Arkansas is definitely feeling like it’s going the other way. But passion weighs more than logic. The reality is that the Razorbacks have lost two games by a total of four points. Don’t tell me if Arkansas were 7-2 right now instead of 5-4 that we’d be having the same conversations about whether Sam Pittman is the right guy for the program.

Results matter, though. Maybe the data that suggests Arkansas has a shot on Saturday can weigh a bit heavier on the Hogs. Because if it does, Pittman and Co. can suck some of that LSU helium away and start to refill.

Sam Pittman on Arkansas vs LSU

Here are some excerpts from Pittman’s Wednesday press conference with Arkansas football media:

On whether Arkansas can keep up with LSU QB Jayden Daniels:

“Well, we certainly are aware of his talent. And a lot of times even people have numbers assigned to him and miss him. So he’s very, very talented. And going over the defensive game plan starting on Sunday night with Barry and his crew all the way through this morning’s meeting with the defense, I feel very, very confident in our game plan.”

“But to me, Daniels is the difference in their offense, and it’s not just running the ball. He’s an exceptional passer. He’s got three really, really good receivers. Counting the tight end, four. They throw the back out a lot, five. They’re very talented, but everything starts with him and they’re O-Line’s playing better, so they’re given him a lot of time to throw the football as well.”

On ties to LSU football staff

“Coach [Cortez] Hankton and I, the wide receiver coach, a fine man, he was a WR coach at Georgia when I was there. Coach Kelly, we played them when I was at Northern Illinois and he was at Central Michigan. But I didn’t really know him until I became a head coach, and then he went to LSU. And again, I like the man, and I think he’s a really good coach.”

“Our conversation started… our relationship basically started with Brad Davis. Some questions about Brad Davis because he was there when Coach Kelly got the job. And then after that it’s become more of a friend relationship. I have high respect for him.”

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