BATON ROUGE — The defensive back doth protest too much?
When safety Todd Harris spoke Monday about the Tigers trying to bounce back at Arkansas from a debilitating, 29-0 loss to No. 1 Alabama when LSU was No. 3 last week, he sounded like he was trying a little too hard to convince himself of his team's attitude.
"We're treating the season like it's still worth something," he said. "We're still in a great position. We still have three games left, and we still have a great chance to go to a great bowl game. We're not going to just throw the season away after that loss."
Well, all righty then.
No. 7 LSU (7-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) may well bounce back strong in a 6:30 game tonight against what appears to be a willing opponent in struggling Arkansas (2-7, 0-5 SEC) and continue to make something out of the 2018 season. Few expected the Tigers to be in the nine- or 10-win range at the beginning of the season anyway when LSU was ranked No. 25.
"But we need to be careful of not having a hangover," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. "We have to get back on track. LSU has struggled after the Alabama game for years. The last two years, we've had success."
Orgeron is 0-3 against Alabama as LSU's head coach, but he is 2-0 so far the next week against Arkansas with convincing, 33-10 and 38-10 wins the last two years. After the 2014 and '15 losses to Alabama, the Tigers of former coach Les Miles looked dead on arrival in 17-0 and 31-14 losses to the Hogs after losses to Alabama. That 17-0 shutout was the only non-Alabama blanking LSU has suffered since 1992 when the Tigers fell, 32-0, against Ole Miss in Jackson, Mississippi.
"Obviously, we have to respect their football team," Orgeron said. "They're going to play their best shot, and it's going to be a hostile environment."
Arkansas also has a better offense statistically than LSU. The Hogs are No. 10 in the SEC and No. 87 nationally in total offense (377.8 yards a game) to No. 12 and No. 103 for the Tigers (362.8). They are No. 13 and No. 101 in passing efficiency (119.9) to LSU's No. 14 for last in the SEC and No. 116 (113.9). Arkansas is No. 9 and No. 58 in rushing offense (176 yards a game) to LSU's No. 10 and No. 62 (170.8).
"They put 31 points on Alabama," Orgeron said of the Hogs' 65-31 home loss to the Tide on Oct. 6. "Uh, we didn't put any."
LSU netted 12 yards rushing against Alabama for its worst rushing output since minus-7 yards in a 31-10 loss to Florida on Oct. 9, 1999. That was LSU's sixth of a school record 10 straight SEC losses from 1998 through 1999 pre-Nick Saban. The Tigers finished 3-8 and 1-7 that season, and coach Gerry DiNardo was fired.
This 2018 LSU team, on the other hand, gained 475 yards against No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1 SEC) in a 36-16 win on Oct. 13.
So, LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson has a better, less defensive idea.
"I think that we try to take our loss out on the team that we play next, especially for a big loss like this — being shut down in our own stadium," he said. "We're just going to try to bounce back and play better than we have been playing."
LSU's passing offense with quarterback Joe Burrow has been struggling for long before the Alabama game. Jefferson caught Burrow's last touchdown pass — a 5-yard score on Sept. 29 in a 45-16 win over Ole Miss.
"Yeah, we need to look at that," Orgeorn said of the passing game. "We need to look at what's going on. Obviously, we are. We looked at it extensively (on Sunday). It has a lot to do with the defenses that we're playing. But again, it all starts with protection and with catching the football. And those are the things that we are looking at right now."
Arkansas may help.
The Razorbacks of defensive coordinator John Chavis, formerly at LSU, are 12th in the SEC and 105th nationally in pass defense with 259.3 yards allowed a game and 13th in the SEC and 80th nationally in total defense with 412.9 yards allowed a game.
"On defense, obviously they're hit and miss," Orgeron said. "But I know they're going to play their best game against us. Chavis likes to blitz. We're expecting their best shot."
LSU may need a shot of something. In addition to the Tigers' numbing loss to Alabama, temperatures tonight are expected to get just below the freezing mark of 32 degrees from a high of 47 in the afternoon. The low Friday night was 17 degrees. It was the type weather LSU played in during that 17-0 loss in 2014.
"We've got to be mentally tough," Orgeron said. "This team's got to be mentally tough. We've got a lot to play for. This is a big game for us in terms of if we do finish strong and where we can end up. We're 7-2 now, and we have a chance to have an excellent season."