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Defending TE Hunter Henry a key concern for LSU against Arkansas

Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry had four catches for 54 yards in the Razorbacks' 17-0 win over LSU last season. Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Nobody who played offense accounted for much in last year's Arkansas-LSU game, a frigid night in the Ozarks where the two teams combined to produce just 387 yards of total offense.

The players who provided the biggest jolt in Arkansas' 17-0 win were both Razorbacks tight ends: Hunter Henry and A.J. Derby. Entering Saturday's rematch, LSU's players know they must focus on preventing Henry -- Derby is now on injured reserve with the New England Patriots -- from enjoying yet another productive outing against their defense.

"People fail to realize with tight ends, they play a real big part in the play-action game," LSU safety Jalen Mills said of defenders' tendencies to bite on run fakes, only to surrender completions to Arkansas tight ends who are left open. "It's unbelievable what those guys do with the tight ends, so eye discipline's going to be real big this week."

The Tigers (7-1, 4-1 SEC) didn't do a great job in that department against Arkansas (5-4, 3-2) last season, with the Razorbacks repeatedly slipping tight ends across the middle for drive-extending completions. Henry and Derby combined for half of Arkansas' 16 completions and 90 of the Razorbacks' 169 receiving yards last season, and they came up huge on third downs.

Arkansas looked in their directions five times on third down and managed to achieve four first downs, either by completions or by a pass interference penalty against LSU.

Those key completions, coupled with a defense that surrendered next to nothing to a pitiful LSU offense, helped the Razorbacks accomplish enough to snap a 17-game SEC losing streak. If the Tigers are to prevent Henry from having a third straight productive game against them -- he caught five passes and scored two touchdowns against LSU in 2013 -- they'll need to play a more disciplined brand of pass coverage than they've exhibited for much of 2015.

"If guys play with their eyes and read their keys and do their jobs, that's the main thing we have to focus on this week," LSU defensive back Dwayne Thomas said. "Fit in the right gaps, keep your eyes on your guys, don't do somebody else's job. When your man comes off, read his intentions and take your guy. We cannot let those guys get us with wide-open guys. We cannot leave men wide open this week. It's going to be a test to our defense."

Although Mills credited Arkansas for its ability to use multiple formations to create confusion, the Razorbacks aren't exactly a deceptive team. They'll build off the running of Collins (1,068 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns) and then senior quarterback Brandon Allen will spread the ball between a variety of pass-catchers -- namely wide receivers Drew Morgan (44 catches, 620 yards, nine TDs) and Dominique Reed (18-342, 5 TDs) and tight end Henry (34-469, 1 TD).

Allen's improvement as a passer has added a dangerous element to the Razorbacks' offense, which has broken the 50-point barrier in each of the last three games.

"He's to me a great quarterback in our game right now," Thomas said. "He's been in their system for a good while and I remember from [2013] when he was young and me sacking him and forcing a fumble at the end of the game, and just seeing his growth and the way he's throwing the ball and carrying his team and rallying those guys to fight every week, it's awesome."

Arkansas is actually third in the SEC in passing (280.2 ypg), which goes against the run-first mentality associated with traditional Bret Bielema teams. That's the style that best suits many LSU defenders, and the style they would prefer to combat.

"It reminds me of the old-timey football, like real football, not the spread us out and make us 250-pound linebackers go out and run around and go cover these small slot receivers," LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith said. "I like the bunched-in and you're going to run the powers, the whams, the lead draw, things like that. It's all fine with me."

That's no longer Arkansas' modus operandi under first-year offensive coordinator Dan Enos, however. The Hogs are balanced on offense, and that means Beckwith and LSU's linebackers must do more than focus solely on run defense if they are to effectively defend the improved Razorbacks attack.

Allen has emerged as one of the nation's most efficient passers, and if he places passes anywhere within Henry's reach -- the junior has not dropped a single pass this season -- it will almost certainly result in a completion.

"Everybody's just going to have to communicate out there and let each other know who's in the game, who's out the game, who's on the ball, who's off the ball, which tight end can do this and which tight end can do that," Thomas said. "That just comes with the preparation we've got to do this week."