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Brandon Allen's passing, defending LSU run among keys in LSU-Arkansas

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Ninth-ranked LSU still has plenty at stake this season, but the Tigers still must play one of the nation’s more difficult remaining schedules while trying to remain in the chase for the College Football Playoff and perhaps even the SEC West title.

LSU (7-1, 4-1 SEC) is coming off a resounding 30-16 loss to Alabama, but Les Miles’ team could slip back to the top of the division rankings if it keeps winning and Alabama loses one of its two remaining SEC games. And even if Alabama wins out and claims the West title, LSU might be able to claw its way back into the CFP top four -- or at minimum, to a New Year’s Six bowl -- if it finishes the regular season with one loss.

Standing between LSU and that goal Saturday is streaking Arkansas (5-4, 3-2), which has been lighting up scoreboards of late. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives LSU a 79 percent chance of beating the Razorbacks, but Bret Bielema’s club is riding high after last week’s overtime upset at Ole Miss. Even if the Hogs have lost nine of their past 10 trips to Tiger Stadium, Arkansas has played well enough lately to like its chances Saturday.

With the help of ESPN Stats & Information, let’s examine some key factors in Saturday’s game:

Allen’s improvement: In case you missed Chris Low’s story about him earlier this week, Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen has absolutely been on fire lately.

He tossed a school-record six touchdowns last week against Ole Miss and has posted a 93.4 Total Quarterback Rating during the Hogs’ three-game winning streak -- a stretch during which he's averaged 313.3 passing yards and tossed 11 touchdowns against one interception.

Allen has led Arkansas to points in 15 of his past 20 drives in regulation (with 14 touchdowns) and has piloted an offense that has scored 50-plus points in three consecutive games -- Arkansas’ longest such streak since 1916.

His passing -- particularly to tight end Hunter Henry -- will be a major concern for an LSU defense that has been decent against the pass, but rarely dominant. The Tigers are ninth in the SEC in both pass defense (217.4 YPG) and pass-efficiency defense (121.7 efficiency rating), and they are surrendering 6.2 yards per pass attempt.

Allen, who is second in the league in passing yards per game (275.1, along with 21 passing touchdowns and five interceptions), will certainly carry a ton of confidence into this matchup.

Defending Fournette: Nobody in the SEC has the talent and depth in the defensive front seven that Alabama does, but surely Arkansas will attempt to mimic the Crimson Tide’s shutdown effort against Leonard Fournette and LSU’s running game.

Fournette ran for just 31 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries last week after rushing for at least 150 yards in every previous game this season. He was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 11 of his 19 carries and ran 14 times for 13 yards on runs between the tackles. Entering the Alabama game, Fournette had averaged a Power 5-best 106.7 YPG between the tackles.

Robb Smith’s Arkansas defense hasn’t had a great season -- the Razorbacks are last in the SEC in scoring defense (29.4 PPG) and 12th in total defense (413 YPG) -- but that is more because of the unit's struggles against the pass (last in the SEC at 283.6 YPG) than the run (seventh, 129.4).

Last week, Ole Miss (222 yards) became the first team to rush for more than 171 yards against Arkansas this season, but LSU will look to get Fournette back on track after last week’s disappointment. Remember, also, that Fournette rushed for just 9 yards on five carries on a frigid night in the Ozarks against Arkansas last season.

Limiting LSU drives the way Alabama did would fit Arkansas’ usual objective. The Hogs have the second-highest average time of possession in the nation (34:09) and can chew time off the clock with Alex Collins and the running game. LSU possessed the ball for 20:33 against Alabama, its worst time of possession in a game since Miles became coach in 2005.

Remember last year: Fournette wasn’t the only Tiger who slumped against Arkansas in the cold last season. A week after a draining loss to Alabama, LSU seemed flat as it took the field the following week against Arkansas. Do those circumstances sound at all familiar?

Arkansas reclaimed the “Golden Boot” trophy with that 17-0 victory and snapped a 17-game SEC losing streak. LSU’s 123 yards of total offense were part of the worst showing by an LSU offense in decades during a regular-season game, and it was just the second time that LSU had been shut out under Miles.

Of note, LSU is 27-2 under Miles following a loss. Last year’s Alabama-Arkansas losses and consecutive defeats against Ole Miss and Arkansas in 2008 are the only time Miles-coached LSU teams have lost back-to-back games.