Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Lunney says Hogs have much to gain
Arkansas tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. throws a football during warmups prior to the Razorbacks' game against LSU on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- The Arkansas Razorbacks enter the penultimate weekend of a rough season with a looming historic first.
The Razorbacks (2-8, 0-6 SEC) are 44-point underdogs for Saturday's 6 p.m. game at No. 1 LSU (10-0, 6-0). For the first time ever, the University of Arkansas will play a No. 1-ranked team twice in the same season.
Defending SEC champion Alabama was No. 1 in The Associated Press poll when the Razorbacks lost 48-7 to the Crimson Tide on Oct. 26 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
LSU rose to No. 1 in the AP poll on Oct. 27, the day after beating Auburn 23-20. LSU earned its first No. 1 ranking in the College Football Playoff standings last Tuesday after winning a 46-41 shootout against Alabama to break an eight-game losing streak to the Crimson Tide.
Arkansas interim Coach Barry Lunney Jr.'s first game after taking the reins from fired coach Chad Morris will be at LSU's famed Death Valley at night against a team that is breaking offensive records left and right with Heisman Trophy front-runner Joe Burrow at quarterback.
"I've heard this a lot already through being out in public the last few days, 'Well, you don't have much to lose,' and I stand against that, and I don't believe that," Lunney said at his first weekly news conference at the Smith Center on Monday. "I believe, and our philosophy is, we've got a lot to gain. We have a lot to gain as a football team this week as far as just re-establishing our identity of who we are and how we play.
"A connotation of, 'You don't have much to lose.' Yeah, I guess it's true in the word sense, but to me as a football coach and a competitor, that conveys the idea that, 'Well, we can just have some fun and go down and just give it a whirl and just see what happens. Oh well, we didn't have much to lose to begin with.'
"You're not as invested in the approach to the game ... when you go in with that attitude. But if you flip that and you go with the approach and the attitude that, 'Man, we've got a lot to gain.' And that's not just me saying that and trying to mind jam our guys or mind trick our guys. It's the truth. We've got a lot to gain. We've got two football games left, and we have a whole lot to gain."
The Razorbacks are the largest underdog in an SEC game since 1978, 14 years before Arkansas joined the conference. LSU Coach Ed Orgeron said he expects a different intensity under Lunney from the Razorbacks, who were outscored 198-60 in the four games before Morris' firing.
"Obviously, they're going to be fired up," Orgeron said. "Interim coach, they had an open date, obviously he's changed things around. He's going to rally the troops. They are going to come out and give their best effort. We know they will."
Lunney said the daunting task of playing an LSU team in line to compete in the College Football Playoff comes with the territory.
"I guess you go all in, right?" Lunney said. "If you're going to do it, you go on the road and play the No. 1 team in the country. It is what it is.
"And the truth is, our mantra, our attitude, our approach would be the same if we were playing Portland State again this week, you know, in a rematch with them. It's about us. It's about us playing our best football game that we've played all season long. Period. End of story."
Lunney was the only coach at Monday's media availability. Coordinators John Chavis and Joe Craddock, who had held interviews on Mondays after Morris throughout his 18-game tenure, will not talk to local media this week.
Lunney said he's gearing up to make in-game decisions for the first time in his career.
"I've not ever made those decisions before, but I'm just going to trust my gut and my instincts and my years of being involved in this game and being around the game and working for different head coaches and growing up in the household of a head coach," he said, referencing his father, Barry Lunney Sr. "I'm just going to draw on those experiences to trust my judgment and make those decisions and obviously lean on Ron Cooper and Jeff Traylor too, for some of that input.
"If you ask me right now how that's going to go, I mean I feel very strongly it's going to go well. I just don't know what that looks like. I'm not practicing in a mirror."
The normal collaborative offensive game planning has been in effect for the Razorbacks since they began scheming to face LSU during their open date last week, so the in-game dialogue on the headsets won't be much different other than Morris not being present.
"That is one of Joe's strengths, and he's got a lot of them," Lunney said. "We work together, and on game day, a wide receiver coach or an O-line coach or somebody else sees something that they think would be beneficial to our team, he's always quick to listen to that.
"He doesn't always call it, but he's quick to listen to that and digest that, especially between series. So, do I anticipate me giving some feedback? Yeah, I do. Offering some play calls? Maybe, sure. But, I've done that for the last two years that we've been here working together. It might crank up a little bit more, but probably not."
Sports on 11/19/2019
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