FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas of alarming covid-19 positive tests and contact tracing present and LSU, so recently afflicted with the same it had to postpone its last week’s game, will play their game Saturday morning.
The Razorbacks, 3-4, and LSU’s Tigers, 2-3, are scheduled to play Saturday’s 11 a.m. SEC Network televised SEC West game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium but were at midweek were lowering towards the SEC minimum scholarship football game limit of 53 players due to positive tests for the covid-19 coronavirus.
Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman, just returned Wednesday to in person work after a Nov. 9-17 home quarantine that included Arkansas’ 63-35 loss last Saturday at nationally No. 6 Florida because he contracted covid-19, on Twitter Friday posted a photo of Reynolds Razorback Stadium captioned with: “We need everyone we can get in here tomorrow!#GoHogs #prouddamnstate.”
Because of covid positive tests first with Florida earlier in the season and themselves last week, Coach Ed Orgeron’s Tigers postponed games vs. Florida and Alabama.
LSU last played on Halloween losing, 48-11 to Auburn.
“We’ve got most of our guys back,” Orgeron said of quarantines fulfilled. “Our guys are ready to play.”
Coming off last year’s 15-0 national championship season, this 2-3 LSU campaign has proven a Tigers nightmare of injuries, including to idled starting quarterback Myles Brennan, opt-outs, players turning pro and just too much turnover in players and staff.
Obviously Orgeron has had to revise goals for a struggling team younger than he envisioned. He recalled a stunning 2017 loss to Troy as an impetus for the 2019 national championship.
“We’re a young football team and I told them we’re building a championship team,” Orgeron said. “Just like after we lost to Troy, we had to get together, get back to the fundamentals and the basics and acquire some grit and some toughness. That’s what we’re doing right now.”
Brennan, last playing until injured during the 45-41 Oct. 10 loss at Missouri, remains not expected to play, Orgeron said Wednesday.
Orgeron hasn’t named a starting quarterback, between freshmen T.J. Finley, starting the last two games completing 30 of 45 for 408 yards and two touchdowns vs. three interceptions, or Max Johnson, 15 of 24 for 172 yards with a TD. He conceded circumstances point to Finley.
“It looks like it’s going to be him (Finley) because Max was out with the quarantine,” Orgeron said Wednesday. “Yesterday was his first day of practice.”
Whoever quarterbacks has two big-time receivers, wideout Terrace Marshall (31 catches, 540 yards and 9 touchdowns) and tight end Arik Gilbert (22 catches, 259 yards and 2 touchdowns) to target.
Defensively, safety JaCoby Stevens and cornerback Derek Stingley starred for last year’s national champions and star again.
“They’ve got a great secondary,” Arkansas wideout Mike Woods said. “I mean, it’s the SEC. Every week we go against talented players.”
Arkansas kickoff man Vito Calvaruso needs to keep kicking through the end zone and punter Reid Bauer punt strategically.
LSU’s Trey Palmer returned a kickoff for a 93-yard touchdown.
Stingley averages 30.7 yards per punt return.
“Pretty much we need to kick it away from them or kick it out,” Pittman said. “One or the other, because they have a great return team.”
Before dealing with the likely absences of players not publicly specified, the Razorbacks dealt with losing receiver De’Vion Warren (torn ACL against Florida) for the remainder of the season and hoping for the return of tight end Hudson Henry and offensive linemen Noah Gatlin and Beaux Limmer, unable to play last week.
Pittman was encouraged offensively off the Florida game with running back Trelon Smith, 8 carries for 118 yards highlighted by an 83-yard touchdown run.
“He had an outstanding game,” Pittman said. “We’ve got to get him the ball more.”
While not beset this Saturday, with a senior Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback like Florida’s Kyle Trask throwing six touchdown passes last Saturday, the Hogs’ confidence is tested coming off their first truly defensively subpar outing.
“I put this past week behind us,” Arkansas sophomore nickel back Greg Brooks said. “We’re moving forward.”
Saturday’s winner moves forward with the Golden Boot Trophy, annually at Arkansas vs. LSU stake and last won by the Hogs in 2014 and 2015.