It’s reasonable to say the 2013 Arkansas football team struggles in most phases of the game.
The Razorbacks (3-8, 0-7 Southeastern Conference) have stumbled offensively and defensively this season, ranking No. 99 and No. 72, respectively, out of 125 NCAA programs.
With sophomore Brandon Allen under center, the offense has scored 20.1 points per game, ranking No. 109 in the nation. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s scheme has averaged a mere 5.1 yards per play.
But as dim as the 2013 campaign has been, one lone bright spot has kept the hopes of a successful future illuminated: a potent rushing attack headed by a pair of young backs.
Freshman Alex Collins and sophomore Jonathan Williams lead the charge for the Razorbacks, combining for 1840 yards and eight touchdowns through 11 games. The duo has accounted for 79 percent of the Arkansas’ rushing yards and 47 percent of the team’s total offense.
LSU junior defensive tackle Anthony Johnson has spent time in the film room preparing for the two-headed offensive.
“This Arkansas team has big offensive linemen, and they try to run the power,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, they’re two physical runners. [Collins] is a very good back. I’ve watched film on him, and he’s pretty big.”
Collins, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., native, was the first freshman in SEC history to open his career stat line with three straight 100-yard games. He totaled 418 yards in the team’s first three games against Louisiana-Lafayette, Samford and Southern Miss, and the former No. 1 running back recruit in the nation averages 5.6 yards per rush.
Williams brings a different skill set than his freshman teammate.
Arkansas has used the Allen, Texas, native in several passing situations, where Williams has made seven receptions for 72 yards and two touchdowns.
LSU’s linebackers will have to keep an extra eye on both running backs on Friday.
“You’ve got to go out there like we did this past Saturday and fight your individual roles,” said junior linebacker D.J. Welter. “You can’t try to make every play. You have to concentrate on knowing where you fit in the defense and getting there as quick as possible and being violent.”
The Tiger defense has seen its share of quality rushers in 2013.
Auburn’s Tre Mason, Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Georgia’s duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have all gone toe-to-toe with the LSU defense this season.
Senior linebacker Lamin Barrow said facing quality running backs earlier in the year has prepared the defense well for what Arkansas intends to bring into Tiger Stadium.
“They’re coming in at a time when we’re playing some of our better football, and going up against guys like Gurley and Yeldon makes us pretty capable to face a team [like Arkansas],” Barrow said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us like every game, but I think we’re going to step up.”
A week after shutting down reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, the LSU defense will look to capitalize on its final regular season contest.
Junior defensive tackle Ego Ferguson said the Arkansas and LSU offenses have a similar style, and the Tiger defense wants to finish the season strong.
“When you watch them, they’re almost like our offense,” Ferguson said. “They’re going to try to pound the rock and keep the clock moving. They try to play physical, and we just have to be ready to put our cleats in the ground and come off the ball and set the tone early.”