LSU-Arkansas has significant stakes for Orgeron, Bielema
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU's Ed Orgeron and Arkansas' Bret Bielema both sound like coaches who love their jobs and want no sympathy for the vitriol spewed their way by passionate, but impatient, fan bases at various times this season.
They also both have opportunities to put themselves and their programs on firmer footing during this season's final stretch, starting Saturday when the Razorbacks visit Tiger Stadium in a game known as the "battle for the boot."
"It's a big game for us," Bielema said. "We've got a lot of kids from Louisiana and battle LSU a lot on recruiting."
Bielema is in his fifth season at Arkansas (4-5, 1-4 SEC), where he was hired after going 68-24 at Wisconsin. The Razorbacks have gone 29-31 overall under Bielema, 11-26 in the SEC.
"One of the main reasons I took this job is because I felt it was an opportunity to build something up," Bielema said. "This year's been a difficult year.
"The people here in the program and the people that are near and dear I think understand where we're going, what we've done and how we can get there," he continued. "The outside world doesn't. I get it. It's a microwave world. Everybody wants things now. So that part's real, but I've enjoyed every minute of it."
Orgeron's first full season at LSU (6-3, 3-2) had some early ugly setbacks - a 37-7 loss at Mississippi State and upset loss to Troy - that brought the Louisiana native's coaching credentials into question. But the Tigers have played well since, with league wins and one competitive loss to No. 1 Alabama in their past four games.
"I'm excited about this football team," said Orgeron, now 12-5 at LSU, and 7-4 in the SEC, since taking over for Les Miles during last season. "Love their attitude, love the way they held their head up high, knowing that we're only a couple of plays away from beating a very good Alabama football team.
"We believe in each other," Orgeron asserted. "We believe in finishing very strong."
Some other things to know about Arkansas' visit to LSU:
BETTER BACK: While leg injuries slowed LSU's Derrius Guice down the first half of this season, he broke loose for 276 yards rushing at Mississippi in late October and gained 71 yards against Alabama's top-ranked defense last week. Now Guice, who rushed for 252 yards at Arkansas last year, is "the healthiest he's been," Orgeron said. "You can see the change in the way he's running the football."
When Guice rests, LSU can turn to Darrell Williams or several receivers who run the jet sweeps offensive coordinator Matt Canada likes to call. "They make you play run defense from A-gap (between the center and guards) to sideline on both sides," Bielema said. "It's a difficult task."
QUARTERBACK DERBY: Bielema was mum this week on who'll start at quarterback. Senior Austin Allen has missed four straight games with a shoulder injury but appears ready to return. Still, Bielema kept open the possibility of sticking with freshman Cole Kelley. Allen was the SEC's leading returning passer entering this season. Kelley - a Louisiana native - has 10 touchdowns (eight passing, two rushing) but spent the early part of this week in a walking boot because of a sprained toe.
HANGOVER EFFECT: In recent seasons, LSU often has looked flat - and lost - the week after deflating setbacks against rival Alabama. Last year, LSU was able to regroup under Orgeron following a loss to the Tide and beat Arkansas. This season, LSU still has a chance at 10 victories for the first time since 2013, and six SEC wins for the first time since 2012. "Nobody has given up on the season," LSU center Will Clapp said. "I know this team is going to be ready."
HOME RUN HAMMONDS: Arkansas' T.J. Hammonds has averaged 10.4 yards per carry this season. The sophomore, who has 259 yards rushing on 25 carries for the year, had 179 total yards last week in a narrow victory over Coastal Carolina - including a touchdown catch of 60 yards and 88-yard scoring run that fueled a fourth-quarter comeback. The 5-foot-10, 195-pound Hammonds has been often injured his first two seasons, but moved from wide receiver following an injury to freshman Chase Hayden.
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