LSU and Arkansas will be looking to feel whole again when they meet in an SEC clash on Saturday in Fayetteville, Ark.
The Tigers (2-3) hope to have a group of players back from issues related to COVID-19 this week. The Razorbacks (3-4) hope to have their head coach back, recovered from his own bout with the virus.
LSU hasn’t played since a 48-11 loss at Auburn on Halloween. The Tigers had a scheduled open date the following week, then their game against No. 1 Alabama was postponed last week because a handful of Tigers tested positive and numerous others were forced to quarantine.
Coach Ed Orgeron said he hopes to have most, if not all, of the quarantined players back this week.
“Obviously this thing is very fluid, can change every day,” he cautioned. “We’ll have to ease them back in. We’re going to have to limit their reps in the game.”
The extended break between games hasn’t been sufficient for LSU quarterback Myles Brennan to return from an abdominal injury. He hasn’t played since sustaining the injury against Missouri on Oct. 10 and might not play again this season.
TJ Finley is 1-1 as the starter in Brennan’s absence, and fellow freshman Max Johnson also has played.
Finley was nearly flawless in his first start, a 52-24 victory against South Carolina, but turned the ball over three times before being benched against Auburn.
“He has to make smart decisions, which he did the first game,” Orgeron said. “The second game he didn’t. You can’t go on the road and turn over the football. It’s not all on him. It’s on the play-calling, keep it simple for him. It’s on the other players surrounding playing better. It’s about the offensive line protection. It’s about everybody.”
Arkansas gave up nearly 600 yards in a 63-35 loss at No. 6 Florida last week, the worst defensive performance of the season by the Razorbacks, who lead the SEC in interceptions with 13 and entered the Florida game with the No. 2 pass defense in the conference.
“Our defense has played really well (overall),” linebacker Grant Morgan said. “We had a bad game. We’ve just got to get better, and confidence is not going to be a problem for us.”
Arkansas learned early last week that first-year coach Sam Pittman would be unable to join the team at Florida after his positive test, though Pittman continued to help prepare the team remotely.
Defensive coordinator and former Missouri head coach Barry Odom led the team in Pittman’s absence.
“Everyone has bumps in the road,” Morgan said. “We can’t let (the loss to Florida) affect another game.”
The earliest Pittman could be cleared to rejoin the team is Wednesday. Odom said the defense and all of the Razorbacks will put the Florida loss behind them quickly.
“We’ll regroup,” Odom said. “We’ve got an opportunity to continue to build what we’re trying to do defensively. We’ll be defined by how we respond to this.”
The Razorbacks were 2-10 and 0-8 in the SEC last season, but they have been much improved under Pittman, a former associate head coach and offensive line coach at Georgia.
Arkansas has defeated Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Tennessee. The Razorbacks have lost to three ranked teams: Georgia, Texas A&M and Auburn.
“The players are doing and listening to what we’re asking them to do,” Odom said.
–Field Level Media