LSU knows it’s not going to the SEC Championship Game.
Arkansas knows it’s not going to a bowl game.
Both teams have had to lower their expectations as they prepare to meet Saturday night in Fayetteville, Ark. But they both have things to play for.
The No. 7 Tigers (7-2, 4-2) can still win 10 games and go to a major bowl game. The Razorbacks (2-7, 0-5) are just beginning a rebuilding process under first-year coach Chad Morris.
LSU had its SEC title hopes and most likely its CFP aspirations dashed in a 29-0 home loss to No. 1 Alabama last Saturday.
Morris watched the game while his team was in the midst of an open date.
“It was two extremely talented teams,” Morris said told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “That was a slugfest. You saw what I saw, which was guys just laying everything they had out on the field. I know we’ll get their absolute best. They’ll get our best this week and that’s what we ask for.”
Both of coach Ed Orgeron’s previous Tigers teams bounced back from tough, physical losses to Alabama to beat Arkansas a week later.
Those are two of the seven games Orgeron’s teams have played after a loss and they won the other five also.
“This team’s got to be mentally tough,” Orgeron said. “We’ve got a lot to play for.”
The Tigers can still finish higher than their current ranking and play in an attractive bowl game, perhaps even a New Year’s Six game.
The Razorbacks, on the other hand, won’t be going to a bowl game and Morris lamented the loss of the additional 15 practices and subsequent player development that come with a bowl bid.
“Those 15 extra practices are so much a part of developing your young guys,” Morris said.
The coach said he might opt to look at some younger players, most notably freshman quarterback Connor Noland, in the remaining games.
“With Connor, (we’ll) just kind of see how the game goes,” offensive coordinator Joe Craddock told the Democrat Gazette. “We’d like to get him in there if we can, but also … we’re going to be very cognizant of his redshirt. I don’t want to just burn it for one or two plays.”
Defensive coordinator John Chavis said any increase in playing time for youngsters would take place only if it doesn’t jeopardize Arkansas’ chances of winning.
“We may lean that way, but we’re going to do everything to win,” Chavis said. “It’s win first, build second. If it means playing two linebackers the entire game and that’s the best way to win, then that’s what we’ll do. But certainly we’ve got to keep developing this football team here.”
Orgeron has yet to play sophomore quarterback Myles Brennan, who was the presumed starter until Joe Burrow joined the program as a graduate transfer from Ohio State after spring practice.
“Myles Brennan is ready to go every game,” Orgeron said. “There’s three games to go, there’s several players that can get more reps and still get red shirted, but I do want to put them in at the right time, I don’t want to put them in at the wrong time and I want to make sure that he’s ready to go in.”
Orgeron said he’s familiar with Morris’ offensive success as head coach at SMU and before that as offensive coordinator at Clemson. He’s especially aware that the Razorbacks scored 31 points against Alabama. It was a 65-31 loss, but nonetheless that’s 31 more points than LSU scored against Alabama.
“I know what he can do, I know what he did at Clemson,” Orgeron said. “He’s an excellent game day caller. Their offense is becoming explosive. It’s becoming Chad Morris’ offense. He has a difficult scheme. He had an excellent game plan (against Alabama), so we do respect his offense.”