LSU brings new mindset into battle for the Boot at Arkansas

HEADING UPFIELD:  Evangel product Micah Baskerville (23) is one of the key pieces of LSU’s intense pass rush. (Photo by PETER FOREST, Journal Sports)

By RYNE BERTHELOT, Journal Sports

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – After two consecutive upsets under the lights of Tiger Stadium, the hard part of LSU’s SEC gauntlet is behind the Tigers.

Now comes the dangerous part.

Today’s 11:07 a.m. matchup on ESPN with a struggling Arkansas (5-4 overall, 2-3 in the SEC) team will be the perfect test of the Tigers’ consistency.

LSU will encounter a hostile environment, a high of 45 degrees that will feel much colder, and a rivalry trophy (The Boot) at stake. The Tigers (7-2, 5-1) have to cast aside the underdog mindset that’s fueled a run to the top of the SEC West. They’re three-and-a-half-point favorites in Las Vegas. They’re now No. 7 in the AP Top 25 poll.

Even head coach Brian Kelly admitted Wednesday that the newfound success requires adjustments to his team’s preparation.

“Certainly with the success we’ve had, we’ve entered into a new part of how we think, and our team needs to now handle success,” Kelly said during the SEC teleconference. “That means preparing the right way, avoiding distractions and really working on what they’ve been good at, and that’s day-to-day.”

The Tigers have prepared this week to face dual threat quarterback KJ Jefferson, whose status was described as a game-time decision by Arkansas coach Sam Pittman Wednesday. Redshirt sophomore Malik Hornsby is waiting in the wings for the Razorbacks, another dual-threat quarterback, albeit with limited game action during his two seasons in Fayetteville.

Pittman said that Hornsby’s prepared for the starting job this week, if Jefferson’s bruised clavicle forces him to miss time.

“Malik Hornsby’s looked really good in practice, the team’s confident in him,” Pittman said. “Either way, whatever happens, whether we play KJ or we play Malik, we feel like we’ll have guy who can go back there that the team believes in, and execute our game plan.”

Pittman did say that Jefferson’s thrown “a little bit more” this week than he did last week, when Arkansas suffered an ugly 21-19 loss to Liberty, but the redshirt junior still threw for 284 yards and two touchdowns. It was Jefferson’s meager rushing production – 16 attempts for 36 yards, including four sacks – that was out of place.

Those numbers may not improve this week thanks to a dominant pass rush for the Tigers, complete with a three-headed monster in Harold Perkins, Micah Baskerville and BJ Ojulari. Those three linebackers combined for two sacks, two-and-a-half tackles for loss, and six quarterback hurries against Bryce Young last week.

LSU also boasts two former Razorbacks in the secondary in Joe Foucha and Greg Brooks. While they’ve both been key contributors to LSU’s continued success, Kelly added that he didn’t seek intel from them on their former teammate.

“Look, there’s not a whole lot you can do. You’ve got to defend a dual threat quarterback,” Kelly said. “You can only imagine they didn’t have much success defending him in practice. We didn’t spend too much time asking about it. We know we’ve got to do a great job with 11 players defending KJ.”

Contact Ryne at rgberthelot@gmail.com