How Arkansas’ Defense Can Use KJ Kryptonite to Slow LSU’s Ground Game

Arkansas vs LSU, Arkansas football
photo credit: Nick Wenger /

FAYETTEVILLE — It was a game that Arkansas football fans probably want to forget, but last week’s loss to Liberty may have given the Razorbacks a blueprint to pull off an upset against No. 7 LSU.

The Flames executed a perfect game plan that included twists and movement along the defensive line to essentially smother Arkansas’ vaunted rushing attack in a 21-19 victory.

Considering just a day earlier Pro Football Focus named the Razorbacks’ offensive line the best in the country, it was jarring to see Liberty rack up a whopping 14 tackles for loss — the most Arkansas had allowed in more than two decades.

“We take pride in putting the team on our backs and we weren’t there Saturday,” right tackle Dalton Wagner said on 103.7 The Buzz this week. “We weren’t able to show up the way we wanted to, but they came in with a tremendous plan, and they got us early in the first quarter on some twists. They ran them them flatter than we were expecting, at least just from an offensive line perspective.”

After watching the film from the game, head coach Sam Pittman told reporters that the Razorbacks had handled those things in the past, but they couldn’t simulate the “flatness” and speed of Liberty’s defensive front.

It hasn’t been a major part of LSU’s defense this season, but after Liberty’s success, there’s a good chance Arkansas will see more twists and movement Saturday.

“When I met with the offensive staff today, I told them we’d better get ready for it,” Pittman said Monday. “They have shown it in a game or two. That’s not their forte, but it’s like anything — if you get a field goal blocked and you don’t fix it, you’re going to get another one blocked. And it’s the same thing here. They’re going to test us.”

There is still uncertainty surrounding quarterback KJ Jefferson’s health, but regardless if it’s him or backup Malik Hornsby, legendary high school coach Kevin Kelley discussed the keys to beating that scheme in another interview on 103.7 The Buzz’s “The Zone.”

“If LSU plays him like Liberty did, he’s going to have to take advantage of the time the o-line gives him and go through his progressions,” the former Pulaski Academy coach told Justin Acri and Wess Moore. “If there are no run lanes and he looks up, they better work with those receivers on how to break from their current play and run to open spots because that’s what it’s going to take.”

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Turning it Around on LSU

On the other side of the ball, Arkansas will have its hands full with LSU’s Jayden Daniels, another true dual-threat quarterback.

The Arizona State transfer is having an excellent first season with the Tigers, completing 69.8 percent of his passes for 1,994 yards, 14 touchdowns and only one interception while adding 619 more yards and 10 scores on the ground.

His rushing yardage leads all SEC quarterbacks, while his 10 rushing touchdowns are second among all players in the country, behind only Ole Miss running back Quinshon Judkins.

Keeping Daniels in the pocket will be critical to Arkansas having success against LSU’s offense that’s putting up 34.8 points and 440.9 yards per game this season — much like it was for Liberty and KJ Jefferson.

“If you could picture in your mind your defensive ends rushing up the field, when they run up the field, they cannot get pushed past the quarterback even a yard, because when they do, that causes a big gap between them and the defensive tackle who’s being blocked,” Kelley said on “The Zone.” “That opens a lane up for the quarterback to run through and that’s where Daniels likes to go. That’s where all running quarterbacks like to go.”

Defensive coordinator Barry Odom could take a page out of Liberty’s playbook and implement some similar schemes against the Tigers, but Kelley said earlier in the interview that it’ll also be important for the Razorbacks’ defensive ends to stay disciplined.

“I think blitzes will work against him if they’ll be coordinated and real creative with their blitz package stuff and things like that,” Kelley noted. “But if they do the rush three, drop eight, he is going to run for 150 yards or more on us. If they just blindly come after him with four down linemen and aren’t disciplined on the outside with that, he’s still going to run all over them.”

How to Watch Arkansas vs LSU

Date: Saturday, Nov. 12

Location: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (Fayetteville, Ark.)

Kickoff Time and TV Schedule: 11 a.m. CT (ESPN)

Announcers: Joe Tessitore (play-by-play), Greg McElroy (analyst), Katie George (sideline reporter)

LSU’s Rankings: No. 7 (AP) | No. 8 (Coaches) | No. 15 (SP+) | No. 9 (FPI)

Arkansas’ Rankings: NR (AP) | NR (Coaches) | No. 31 (SP+) | No. 47 (FPI)

Arkansas vs LSU Predictions

Here are several picks — including from our own managing editor, Andrew Hutchinson — and computer projections for the Arkansas vs LSU matchup…

Andrew Hutchinson, BoAS (preseason): LSU, 21-17 (click here to read Hutch’s full preseason predictions)

LSU is probably going to have some growing pains under new head coach Brian Kelly, but it is still an immensely talented team and will probably knock off a team or two it probably shouldn’t this season. Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, I think they make sense as one of the Tigers’ victims. After all, LSU wasn’t particularly good last year and Arkansas needed a busted coverage to score its lone touchdown and then won 16-13 in overtime. This seems like a payback game for the Tigers, who I have coming out on top in a defensive slugfest.

Andrew Hutchinson, BoAS (updated): LSU, 31-21

LSU has far exceeded my expectations for Brian Kelly’s first season, especially after the embarrassing Week 1 loss to Florida State. Jayden Daniels is going to be tough to contain for Arkansas’ defense and the uncertainty surrounding the Razorbacks’ quarterback situation doesn’t give me a whole lot of confidence. Even if KJ Jefferson plays, I don’t think he’ll be anywhere close to 100%. The cold weather could make it close but, ultimately, the Tigers will be too much for Arkansas to handle.

Vegas (using spread and O/U): LSU, 32.5-29

ESPN FPI: Arkansas has a 27.5% chance to win (down 18.3 percentage points from preseason projection)

Bill Connelly’s SP+: LSU has a 56% chance to win, favored by 2.5 (projected score: 31-29)

Sagarin: LSU has a 68% chance to win, favored by 6.90 (projected score: 33.0-26.1)

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