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Wisener: Cover story small reward for Hogs
LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire breaks a tackle attempt by Arkansas safety Myles Mason on his way to a touchdown during the third quarter of a game Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La.
Like National Football League teams have done so often against teams quarterbacked by Tom Brady, LSU left Arkansas too much time Saturday night in Baton Rouge.
Certainly not for the Razorbacks to win — nothing that would shake the earth, mind you — but to mess with the minds and wallets of anyone playing the favored Tigers for betting purposes.
LSU won the game handily, which should surprise you not at all, but not in the biggest blowout in Southeastern Conference history.
Depending on which betting service one used, the line ranged from 39 1/2 to 41 1/2 points when the 10-0 Tigers and 2-8 Razorbacks clashed at LSU’s Tiger Stadium, better known as Death Valley. That is, anyone taking LSU “gave” the points and relied on the Tigers to win by a greater margin. Anyone betting on Arkansas needed the Hogs to win outright or for the Tigers not to “cover” the spread.
LSU, winning by “only” 56-20, cheered some, saddened others, perhaps simultaneously. The whooping in Oaklawn’s sports-betting pavilion, where I watched the game, went from being slightly for Arkansas, when it played respectably early, to solidly for LSU in the decisive middle portions.
The game got one-sided when LSU scored 21 straight points in the second quarter, out-gaining Arkansas 229-9 in the last 9:43 of the half. That string of unanswered points increased to 49 early in the fourth quarter.
Scoring the Tigers’ third touchdown of the half, John Emery Jr. went 39 yards with an Oaklawn chorus behind him, making it 56-6.
Arkansas, which started true freshman KJ Jefferson at quarterback, turned to the interception-prone Nick Starkel. Knowing Starkel’s history for throwing into crowds, I said to the man sitting on my right, “LSU might score 70.” (At that time, I wondered how Arkansas could make my projected 55-17 final score more realistic. I forgot a couple of sports truisms: 1. That’s why they play the game. 2. As Nolan Richardson liked to say when he ran short of Razorback basketball scholarships: “These things have a way of evening themselves out.”)
Jefferson, making his first career start, passed for a season-high 105 yards. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda dialed up pressure against Jefferson, whose cause wasn’t helped by often playing behind the chains.
After converting on third-and-3, Arkansas faced consecutive third downs needing 13, 11, 9, 16 and 14.
The Razorbacks collected Connor Limpert’s second field goal on third-and-goal from the 9 but faced third-and-8 on their next possession after a false start by freshman right guard Ricky Stromberg. After an incompletion and Sam Loy’s punt, LSU, with Joe Burrow hitting three straight passes, scored in five plays to lead 21-6.
Arkansas’ defense looked especially woebegone during the middle quarters, LSU bumping the lead to 28-6 by halftime on drives of 75, 62 and 90 yards taking 2:05, 2:00 and 1:37 off the clock.
Burrow, with 327 yards and three scores, became only the fourth SEC quarterback with a 4,000-yard season. With one game to play, the Tigers have a school-record 67 touchdowns and are the first SEC team with a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard runner and two 1,000-yard receivers.
Everything wrong with the John Chavis-coordinated UA defense surfaced in the second half, the Tigers with quick-strike drives of 85, 26 and 89 yards requiring four plays and 1:18 of clock time. If there is an NCAA category for missed tackles, Arkansas must be among the national leaders.
The Razorbacks gave Burrow all the time needed to go deep or swing the ball to open receivers. A Heisman candidate from nowhere, Burrow spread his 25 completions among seven players. Clyde Edwards-Helaire accounted for 253 (188 rushing) of the Tigers’ 612 yards and scored three touchdowns.
Arkansas, with an extra week to prepare, ran 71 plays to LSU’s 48 but was out-gained by 308 yards. Such is the nature of modern-day college football that Arkansas held the ball for 40:29 to LSU’s 19:31 and lost by 36 points.
But that margin was under the Las Vegas line, saying something for the improvement (almost exclusively on offense) by Arkansas in Barry Lunney Jr.’s first game as interim head coach. Arkansas kept it under the spread mainly by not committing a turnover, which is required of a heavy underdog playing on the road against a superior foe.
It doesn’t help when Razorbacks kept misjudging the first-down marker — Jefferson and Treylon Burks did so in the first half — or when an LSU offensive lineman tackled Arkansas defender McTelvin Agim with no flag thrown. This is still an inexperienced team, and teams with losing records cannot expect many favorable calls against a ranked team on the road.
Arkansas got a spark from junior quarterback Jack Lindsey, who entered after Starkel went down with an injury. If anyone deserved player-of-the-game honors on Arkansas’ side, it was Lindsey after completing 3 of 4 passes for 51 yards and a touchdown. Arkansas finished on something of a high after a 30-yard keeper by Lindsey, who later found Mike Woods for 24 yards and a score.
LSU thoroughly botched an Arkansas onside kick, the Hogs recovering downfield at the Tigers’ 11 and Devwah Whaley scoring from 2 yards out with 6:50 left.
Young Lindsey has the right bloodlines. He’s the grandson of Forrest City native and former Razorback star Jim Lindsey, who after a pro career became a real-estate magnate in thriving Northwest Arkansas. Lyndy Lindsey, his dad, lettered four years at Arkansas for teams coached by Ken Hatfield and Jack Crowe, and his uncle, Zak Clark, lettered at Arkansas for two years on teams coached by Houston Nutt.
A friend from Fayetteville says he and a Northwest Arkansas TV veteran “have looked at each other for two years and wondered why Jack Lindsey can’t get into games.” He predicts that the season finale against Missouri will be “a Jack Lindsey and John Stephen Jones show.”
Arkansas needs more than one hero to resurrect the football program. But after mishandling Mitch Mustain, wouldn’t it be something if Arkansas breaks an 18-game SEC losing streak with another ex-Springdale High quarterback (Lindsey) in a key role?
Food for thought before Arkansas, 2-9, and Missouri, 5-6 after losing at home to Tennessee, play “let’s get it over with” at 1:30 p.m. Friday in Little Rock.
War Memorial Stadium is on Markham Street, off University Avenue, in case you’ve forgotten, and the game is on CBS, if you choose not to attend. No betting line as of this writing, but there will be.
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