FAYETTEVILLE — East is east and west is west.
Compelling Leonard Fournette to run only those directions suits Arkansas best.
LSU sophomore running back Fournette runs into the Razorbacks at his Tiger Stadium lair in Baton Rouge, La. Saturday night as the most heralded running back in the country.
For the Tigers (7-1, 4-1), heading into Saturday’s 6:15 p.m. ESPN-televised game against Arkansas (5-4, 3-2), Fournette in the seven victories has ranged from 150 to 244 yards rushing, mostly from the get-go, running north-south.
In LSU’s 30-16 loss to Alabama last Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Fournette netted only 31 yards on 19 carries.
Last season in Fayetteville, Arkansas fared even better against Fournette. The then freshman phenom netted just nine yards on five carries as Arkansas won, 17-0 on a cold, cold night at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Alabama sent sideways the powerful 6-2, 230-pounder stringing out his would be vertically challenging power runs into frustrated horizontal dead ends without a good turn.
Arkansas did likewise to Fournette last year, senior Razorbacks defensive tackle DeMarcus Hodge said.
“I think the biggest thing that helped us back then is that we were playing vertical,” Hodge said Wednesday, the last day that media will talk with the Razorbacks until Saturday’s postgame. “We were attacking our gaps and we were meeting him in the backfield. Because once he gets past that first level, that’s where he’s does what he does best. If we can make sure we crowd him and smart swarm to the ball, then we’re going to have a good day.”
It helps most, Alabama proved last week and Arkansas proved last year, to get a healthy lead on LSU. Far better for Arkansas, Alabama or anyone opposing LSU to compel the Tigers start throwing the ball playing second-half catch-up instead of running the ball and thereby also running off precious time.
LSU receivers Travin Dural, 26 catches for 503 years and three touchdowns, and Malachi Dupre, 23 catches for 420 yards and five touchdowns, average 19.3 and 18.3 yards per catch. Their high averages stem from run-supporting secondaries so respecting Fournette (195 carries for 1,383 yards) running that Dural and Dupre slip behind them to catch quarterback Brandon Harris’ play-action passes.
The trio are not as dangerous when the play-action can be disregarded because everyone in the stadium knows it’s a pass.
That’s when defenses can rattle Harris, says Arkansas redshirt freshman safety Santos Ramirez who grew up playing high school ball in Louisiana (Evangel in Shreveport) as did Harris (Bossier City).
“He is predictable where he wants to go,” Ramirez said. “He has got a good arm on him but he’s not as accurate.”
In forced to throw situations, Harris can be rattled into poor decisions, Ramirez said compared to dealing from strength throwing or scrambling off play-action.
“They are really heavy on the run,” Ramirez said. “They use play-action to get our eyes out of place. They try to bait you in and then they sneak behind you. He can get receivers behind you and really throw the ball. We have to be careful with that.”
Whether it’s Fournette running, Harris scrambling or Dural, Dupre and Co. after the catch, the Razorbacks to prevail surely must tackle better in Baton Rouge than they did last Saturday in Oxford, Miss.
Ole Miss amassed 590 yards total offense though Arkansas, amassing 605 yards, prevailed 53-52 on the Razorbacks’ remarkable overtime.
Missing last year’s senior stalwarts, All-SEC linebacker Martrell Spaight, All-SEC defensive end Trey Flowers, defensive backs Alan Turner and Tevin Mitchel and turned pro early defensive tackle Darius Philon, seems to manifest in missed tackles the last three games even as Arkansas won them 54-46 in four overtimes over Auburn and especially Ole Miss and the 63-28 victory over Tennessee-Martin preceding it.
This week’s Tuesday and Wednesday practices, usually much lighter at this season’s late stage, reflected defensive coordinator Robb Smith’s emphasis on tackling, Ramirez said.
“This week has been real physical,” Ramirez said. “Everything we do individual and circuit is all about butting them up and driving them back. We put a lot of emphasis on tackling because we have got to swarm them.”
Arkansas, expected to add previously injured reserve receiver Cody Hollister to its game-ready corps with two weeks of practice testing his early-season broken foot, wraps its week’s drills with a closed practice today.