No. 24 LSU is only favored by a touchdown on its trip to play Arkansas Saturday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN). Maybe that’s fair, because Arkansas is occasionally good and has beaten a few talented teams. Maybe it’s not, because when LSU decides it’s time to run, the Tigers should be able to do whatever they want.
Leonard Fournette has had a somewhat uneventful season. He’s missed three games, and he followed up his school-record 284 yards on 16 carries two weeks ago against Ole Miss by being totally snuffed out last week against Alabama. Fournette might not replicate his Ole Miss effort in Fayetteville, but he’s got a chance to get into that neighborhood again, because the Razorbacks’ run defense is putrid.
For the season, Arkansas gives up 6.1 yards per carry. That’s the worst mark in the country. The Hogs maybe get some sympathy for playing in the SEC West, but opponent-adjusted Rushing S&P+ says their rush defense is just 125th, not 128th. Whichever you believe, Fournette’s about to zap them.
Every single thing about Arkansas’ run defense is terrible.
The Hogs are 96th nationally in Rushing Success Rate, which measures down-to-down efficiency. When teams run on them, they get enough yardage to stay on schedule for a first down 46 percent of the time. (That sounds low enough, but it’s one of the worst marks in the country.)
They’re 127th in Rushing IsoPPP, which measures how explosive successful plays turn out to be. When teams get decent yardage against Arkansas, they’re able to totally blow the top off the defense, and they can do it without even throwing.
The Razorbacks have given up 52 runs of 10-plus yards, 26 of 20-plus, 14 of 30-plus, and 10 of 40-plus. Put another way, they give up an average of more than one 40-yard carry per game. It’s hard to do that, but it’s not that hard to see how it happens.
Here’s a collection of Arkansas’ greatest hits from Oct. 22 at Auburn, when Auburn dropped 543 rushing yards on the Hogs, averaging 9.5 per carry.
Arkansas letting a motioning receiver glide behind a half-back and a receiver, without its poor cornerback and safety getting any help at all:
An Arkansas linebacker getting faked on an option read, then having no unblocked teammates around to cover for him:
Six Arkansas players being individually blocked or run away from in the defensive box, plus the nickel cornerback by a slot receiver, allowing an easy 10 yards:
None of this is especially scientific. Then, neither is Arkansas’ run defense. It’s terrible, and while it’s not usually as terrible as it was in this particular game, it’s repeatedly not good. It’s been downright bad in the majority of Arkansas’ games.
It’s been so bad that holding Florida to 12 yards on 14 attempts last week didn’t get the Hogs out of ranking dead-last in the country in opposing rushing average. Florida’s running game is awful, and while stopping it was encouraging, it only means so much when you’re about to play Fournette.
We can safely expect Fournette to run until he gets tired.
Just like we shouldn’t read a lot into Arkansas having a good rush defense week against a terrible rushing offense, we shouldn’t fret about Fournette after he could get nothing against Alabama. He’s still looking at a colossal mismatch this week.
Fournette’s injury problems could keep him from qualifying for national rushing lists this year, but he’s been great when he’s been healthy. He averages 7.1 yards per attempt. Arkansas is the most delicious buffet he could face.
If things go as they’ve gone for both Fournette and backup Derrius Guice, LSU will run both efficiently and for huge chunks at a time. On carries where Fournette gets beyond 5 yards, he averages an extra 9.2 after that. Guice averages an extra 10.2.
On the whole, LSU ranks second in the country in Rushing S&P+. Fournette’s great, and so is Guice. They each have the benefit of a strong run-blocking line, and there’s no reason to think they won’t have a field day.