The Hogs did just about everything they could do to lose the game Saturday night. They also did everything they had to do to win. You can focus on whatever side of that coin you want, but I'm willing to chalk it all up to road woes and look ahead to the Battle for the Boot.
I decided against counting up the number of motion penalties called on Ray Dominguez this season because 1). left tackles are the second-highest-paid players on an NFL roster for a reason and 2). Dominguez has as good an excuse as anyone on the team for trying to get a head start off the line.
I guess I'm cutting the special teams some slack because, with the exception of an Auburn loss over which you could point a lot of fingers, they haven't very often been a weakness this season. Yes, Maudrecus Humphrey's roughing penalty likely stole a comfortable lead from us and ultimately resulted in a drive that turned the game into the race it became — only his infraction wasn't egregious and, like a good kicker missing a vital field goal, that kind of thing just happens on occasion, as does a little extracurricular sparring.
Anthony Leon, who has been positively vicious in his role as a roaming hybrid back all season, lost his head and the first half of the LSU game after getting a little negatively vicious in retaliation for some more subtle kicking and jabbing. What are you going to say to a player who is defending himself?
Leon didn't throw a punch; His fist wasn't closed. He struggled off the ground and swung violently to push away a much larger player. Anyone who has ever been in a scrum or recovered a fumble knows that surviving a smothering dogpile involves sustained and dirty use of multiple fingers and knees and elbows. Leon just let it get the best of him.
I mentioned on the Arkansas Expats' Hog Call podcast recently that I'm amazed at how little time we've spent worrying over our linebackers this season. Occupying the thinnest position by far on defense, those guys have been so consistent of late that I hardly think to call them by name.
More welcome attention should be paid to Jerry Franklin, who brought down or helped bring down 20 Bulldogs. Granted, it helped we were getting beat on the line of scrimmage for most of the day, but Franklin's performance might have been the difference between long drives that visibly wore down a very physical MSU rushing game and the big, damaging plays that haunted us last season.
Over the couse of the game, Knile Davis more than made up for twice putting the ball on the ground. Mallett has made lots of bad passes this season, but the interception he forced in the third quarter was the first bad decision I remember him making since the Alabama game. This team played well. More importantly, they played hard — and that's a good thing heading into the toughest defensive matchup we've seen.
John Chavis' LSU unit ranks first in the conference in total defense. It also ranks first in passing defense. Chavis presided over some of the best squads in NCAA history at Tennessee. Combine that with the personnel at LSU, where "SEC speed" is not just a tired phrase, and you have a challenge on your hands. Whatever temperature the Tiger offense is running this Saturday, his D will come to play.
Luckily, we have a mole. Assistant Coach Steve Caldwell spent a lot of time with Chavis' rock-solid 4-3 and multiple bliz packages during his 14-year tenure at Knoxville. But defense isn't like offense. You can't unlock it. There's no secret. If it works, it works because a coordinator has accounted for all of the holes and the players have developed instincts and discipline enough to perform in a predictable way on the field.
But you can understand it. You can find the weaknesses. You can squeeze through the cracks. You can exploit the weakest links. And Petrino has likely spent more than the usual face time with Cadwell this week. Expect a lot of Knile Davis, as the line has holes, despite its giant anchor, Drake Nevis. Greg Childs, on physicality alone, would have been the ideal preoccupation for standout corner Patrick Peterson, but Petrino will likely try to match his dynamism with Joe Adams. Adams might not get a lot of the touches, especially in the second half, but that won't mean he isn't getting his job done.
The LSU offense is another matter entirely. Gary Crowton has done very little with a whole lot this season, but Les Miles' vaunted unpredictability and his players' raw talent can be a dangerous combo. Stevan Ridley is a consistent producer on the ground, and, while the Ole Miss secondary can make anybody look good, we shouldn't sleep on Jordan Jefferson. He's certainly a talented athlete, which is what's most frustrating about his career thus far. And he has three very able targets in Terrance Toliver, Deangelo Peterson and Rueben Randle — together a stable almost as deep as our own.
My gut tells me that Les Miles won't be able to pull of one of his crazy finishes in Little Rock, especially if our special teams manage to swallow up Patrick Peterson and get us points when Chavis and co. keep us out of the end zone. But while all the miracles on Markham may seem to be reserved for the Razorbacks, with Fate's best friend on the opposite sidelines we'd do well not to need them.
Follow Derek Jenkins throughout the week and during games on Twitter @aboynamedsooie.