LSU-Arkansas Preview

The Associated Press

While its matchup with Arkansas won't have the weighty anticipation from previous years, LSU knows other factors make this game meaningful.

The eighth-ranked Tigers still have a slim chance to reach the SEC championship game and can bolster their BCS hopes by getting past the struggling Razorbacks on Friday.

LSU (9-2, 5-2) and Arkansas have met as ranked opponents each of the past two seasons and the Tigers maintained their No. 1 ranking last year with a 41-17 home win over the then-No. 3 Razorbacks on Nov. 25.

Nearly a year after that matchup, Arkansas has fallen on hard times following the firing of former coach Bobby Petrino for a scandal involving an adulterous relationship with an athletic department staff member. While they again boast one of the best passing offenses in the SEC, the Razorbacks (4-7, 2-5) have had difficulty translating that into wins and were eliminated from bowl contention with a 45-14 loss at Mississippi State on Saturday.

"Sometimes it's a test of your character, who you are deep down inside, and how long you can stay positive," said senior quarterback Tyler Wilson, who needs 88 yards to become the school's all-time leading passer.

LSU, meanwhile, secured a 13th consecutive postseason appearance weeks ago and is hoping to reach its sixth BCS bowl game over that span. With Alabama, Georgia and Florida ranked above them, the Tigers need a win and help for a chance at one of the SEC's two spots.

LSU also needs assistance to reach a second straight conference title game. A victory against Arkansas, an Alabama loss to Auburn and a Texas A&M win over Missouri would set up a rematch for LSU against Georgia, the team the Tigers blew out 42-10 for last year's SEC championship.

"There are no goals yet removed. We're looking forward to playing it out," coach Les Miles said. "There are spots to achieve for us."

That's only true because LSU escaped with a 41-35 victory over visiting Mississippi this past Saturday. The Tigers trailed by a touchdown with 10 minutes remaining, but Odell Beckham's 89-yard punt return tied the game and Jeremy Hill's third touchdown run provided the final margin with 15 seconds left.

LSU, though, gave up a season-high 316 yards through the air and Miles wants his team to improve before facing Wilson, who is averaging an SEC-best 302.8 passing yards per game and has 20 touchdowns for the second straight season.

"We're going to spend six days in between now and the next game in pass coverage," Miles said last weekend. "This is the kind of film that will be truly beneficial to our secondary."

Wilson has thrown 12 interceptions, double his total from his inaugural season as a starter in 2011. He's also been sacked 10 times in the last four games, including four in a 38-20 loss to then-No. 12 South Carolina on Nov. 10.

He was sacked a career-high five times by LSU in last season's meeting, finishing with 207 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Zach Mettenberger will try to lead the Tigers while continuing to play a greater role in his team's offense. The junior quarterback has topped 270 passing yards in three consecutive games after averaging 177.4 over his first eight contests.

"He's functioning our offense. He's doing the things we ask him to do. We expect him to play big in games like this," Miles said following last week's win.

LSU lost its last visit to Arkansas 31-23 on Nov. 27, 2010, in Little Rock. The teams have met in Arkansas' capital city nine times since the Razorbacks joined the SEC in 1992, but this game will be the Tigers' first in Fayetteville in two decades.

Before last year's LSU rout, the teams had split the previous six meetings, with each decided by eight points or fewer.

This is likely the final game for interim Arkansas coach John L. Smith, who said he would like to continue coaching somewhere.

"Boy, I'd sure like to go out with a win," Smith said.

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