FAYETTEVILLE – Few who played last year’s 2-10 overall, 0-8 in the SEC Razorbacks would have any trepidation about playing this season’s 2-8, 0-6 Razorbacks that just fired their head coach. Surprisingly, the nationally No. 1 LSU Tigers might be one. Not trepidation perhaps, but at least an authentic recent history reminder that playing against Arkansas isn’t always so easy as it recently appears. Coach Ed Orgeron’s SEC West leading Tigers, 10-0, 6-0 including beating defending SEC champ Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., hosts the Razorbacks, piloted by interim coach Barry Lunney Jr. replacing fired coach Chad Morris, in Saturday’s 6 p.m. ESPN televised SEC West game at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.
Despite last year’s Tigers going 10-3, 5-3 and closing the 2018 season nationally ranked sixth by the Associated Press and seventh in the Coaches poll, Arkansas in Fayetteville rallied from down 14-0 to pull to a final down 24-17 loss with Orgeron and the Tigers excited to run clock, hanging on.“Don’t underestimate them,” Orgeron said during Wednesday’s SEC Media/Coaches teleconference. “They always play well against LSU. We have to play our best game. We’re looking at the things that we didn’t do well last week (a 58-37 SEC victory at Ole Miss). We still have to play 60 minutes at the LSU standard of performance and we haven’t done that yet. We have some things we need to fix offensively defensively and on special teams. Hopefully we can do that this week.”
Surprisingly, Orgeron does not include overconfidence that he must guard his team against playing the statistically hapless Hogs. “I think a regular team would have overconfidence and letdowns and stuff,” Orgeron said. “But you know we had a 21-point victory over Ole Miss. I think I was the only one happy in the locker room. The guys were not happy with their performance.”
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s part of the LSU equation could not have been thrilled with the Tigers allowing 614 yards total offense and 37 points. Even while completing 32 of 42 for 489 yards and five touchdowns, LSU quarterback and leading Heisman Trophy candidate Joe Burrows fretted two passes he wished to have back. “Joe had two interceptions,” Orgeron said. “He was not happy. The defense was not happy. So we had one of our better Tuesday practices yesterday. I think it’s more or less right now, at this point of the season we’re competing with ourselves to play at the LSU standard of performance. Once we do that we feel we’re going to be fine.”
Orgeron noted Arkansas’ open date week not only for Lunney to acclimate from tight ends coach to interim head coach but to implement some changes. Orgeron knows the interim head coaching role,. He served it both at the University of Southern California promoted in 2013 from defensive line coach when Lane Kiffin resigned during the season and at LSU when Les Miles was fired in September, 2016 with Orgeron eventually named the permanent head coach.
“With an interim coach and open date and an open date they’ll be trying some stuff,” Orgeron said. Like what? “I think you can do some things,” Orgeron said. “Obviously they can look at some things that have hurt us and run them if they’re close to something in their system. I don’t think you can overhaul the system in one week and expect to totally overhaul the system in one week and expect them to perform at a high level. But I think you know, obviously their coach is going to want to put his tweaks on it, maybe run the ball more, maybe play-action pass, play a different quarterback, not play a quarterback. Maybe blitz more, blitz less. Onside kicks on special teams. I’m sure a coach would like to add his flavor, whatever it may be.”
Lunney has said he has some ideas for changes that might not even be apparent to those outside the program but he will not break the basic continuity of play-calling offensive coordinator Joe Craddock calling plays nor veteran defensive coordinator John “Chief” Chavis coordinating the defense. Lunney on Wednesday’s conference call said his transition has gone well crediting both the players and the coaches who were his fellow assistants until Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek’s Nov. 10 announcement firing Morris and elevating Fort Smith native and since 2013 Arkansas tight ends coach Lunney to interim head coach.