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Prize fight: LSU wants Golden Boot; Arkansas treasures it

by Tom Murphy | November 12, 2016 at 5:30 a.m.
Arkansas players celebrate with The Boot trophy following a 17-0 win over LSU on Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Those mental snapshots taken by Arkansas Razorbacks fans two years ago have become enduring images.

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The sight of Arkansas players bolting across Reynolds Razorback Stadium to get their hands on the 175-pound Golden Boot Trophy -- the playing surface overrun by fans, SEC financial penalties be darned -- after a 17-0 victory is hard to forget.

Unbridled euphoria -- kindled in part by a pregame speech from former Razorback David Bazzel, creator of the heaviest trophy in college football -- spilled over as Arkansas ended a 17-game losing streak against SEC opponents.

"I remember the emotional crowd rushing the field," senior defensive lineman Deatrich Wise said. "It was fantastic."

The scene also serves as an indicator of how Arkansas approaches the trophy game compared with LSU, which has a 14-10 edge over Arkansas since the Razorbacks joined the SEC in 1992.

Bazzel introduced the boot to the series in 1996, with LSU holding a 12-8 edge since then.

"The boot here is everything," Arkansas senior tackle Dan Skipper said. "It means everything to us. It means everything to fans, the state. Every time you walk off that elevator, it's the first thing you see. That's the daily reminder that we're here to play ... the boot means everything."

LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron recognized this week that the Razorbacks have seemed hungrier to claim the golden prize the past couple of years.

"I think you're right on that," Orgeron said in response to a question about Arkansas making a big deal out of the rivalry game. "Look, I have in-laws in Arkansas. I know what it means to them. I coached at other schools in the SEC, and it just seemed like every time somebody plays LSU, it's their game of the year and I get that.

"That's why you come here. And although it would be nice to bring the boot home, you know, I don't think that will be our single most motivation this week."

Arkansas, which upset the No. 9 Tigers 31-14 in Baton Rouge, La., last year, has a chance to win its third game in a row in the series for the first time since 1927-1929.

"Our whole focus is to keep that boot here," senior linebacker Brooks Ellis said. "There's a lot of pride walking down our hallways and seeing the boot in there."

Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema, who grew up and played in Big Ten country where trophy games are prevalent, has made the acquisition of the trophy a point of pride. Bielema also pokes a little fun at the massive, 24-karat gold-plated trophy in the shape of Arkansas and Louisiana.

"It kind of looks like a bad neck chain from the '80s," Bielema said on the SEC coaches call this week. "It's a little gaudy, a little bit, but it's gold-plated and its speaks volumes about the pride between these two states."

The recent turn in the series may have something to do with a schedule change that took place after Texas A&M and Missouri joined the SEC for the 2012 season.

LSU has lost both games since the Arkansas-LSU game was moved away from the regular-season finale in 2014. LSU is now paired with Texas A&M for the Thanksgiving weekend matchup and Arkansas plays Missouri.

For the third consecutive season, the Arkansas-LSU game comes after the Tigers have gone through a physical battle against Alabama. The LSU-Alabama rivalry, always an emotional game, has taken a lot out of the Tigers, and many see it as a reason why they have struggled to match the Razorbacks' intensity the past couple of meetings.

"Last year, we let the Alabama game get to us," LSU offensive tackle K.J. Malone said. "It affected how we played the rest of the season. I don't see that happening again. I thought everybody had a different mindset. We really want to finish the season strong and make the community proud.

"They beat us two years in a row, and we really want to get the boot back to Louisiana."

Arkansas receivers coach Michael Smith, a native of New Orleans, senses a different attitude from Arkansas' Louisiana-born players when they face LSU.

"It's just like it is for me," Smith said. "Being from down there, you want to represent yourself as well as where you come from. These guys, it notches them up a bit this week because they get to play in front of a lot of people from home and then for 365 days you get to be either on the great side of it or the bad side of it."

LSU has had to deal with the bad side the past two years, unable to bounce back from losing to Alabama.

"Do hangovers happen in sports? Absolutely they do," Arkansas defensive backs coach Paul Rhoads said. "Can one game beat you twice? Absolutely it can. It can also motivate you. We'll get LSU's best, I promise you that."

Arkansas linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves said the week after gearing up for a game against Alabama can be trying.

"I think the good teams are able to kind of bounce back a little and play that next one," he said. "Does it take something out of you? Probably does. Especially when you put a whole lot in.

"But I also think we played pretty well [against LSU] over the last couple of years, so we're going to give ourselves a little credit for that too."

The discontent around LSU Coach Les Miles was palpable before and after Arkansas' victory in Baton Rouge, the Tigers' only home loss last year. There were reports Miles was coaching to keep his job the next week against Mississippi.

But after Ole Miss won the game in Oxford, Miss., an outpouring of emotion from fans enveloped the program and LSU beat Texas A&M 19-7 at Tiger Stadium the next week. Miles was carried off on the shoulders of his players and kept his job.

Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron lost their jobs for good after an 18-13 loss at Auburn on Sept. 24. Orgeron was named interim coach the next day, and Bielema said he sees a different energy in the Tigers with Orgeron in command.

"They're almost kind of a different team," Bielema said of LSU, which is 3-1 since the coaching change.

Bazzel, a TV and radio personality in Little Rock, said he thinks the thirst for winning the boot is picking up steam since Arkansas has gone 5-4 in the past nine meetings.

"When I created it, I thought it would be 25-30 years before it would get to be where it sort of meant something," Bazzel said. "But I think ... what has happened here in the last 10 years is Arkansas has found ways to beat LSU when they've been at their best. What you've seen is respect from LSU fans who say, listen when we go to Arkansas -- this was even before the A&M and Missouri change -- Arkansas is going to give us all we can handle. The fact we've got Louisiana players has added to it."

LSU players have been asked this week about whether Arkansas brings more emotion into the game.

"We've got to match their intensity," quarterback Danny Etling said. "They showed how talented they can be against Florida. We've got to get up for this game and make sure we're prepared."

Orgeron said the Tigers will be ready.

"I do believe we have some guys that came back that want to finish very strong, the older guys on this football team," Orgeron said. "We have a lot of juniors that came back. They want to finish strong. I'm sure they are thinking of going to a good bowl game.

"They want to finish with a winning season. They want to finish and give everything to LSU. We have a lot riding on the line."

So do the Razorbacks.

"It's a trophy game," Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen said, "and you always want to keep the trophy."

NO. 24 LSU AT NO. 25 ARKANSAS

WHEN 6 p.m.

WHERE Reynolds Razorback Stadium (72,000) Fayetteville

RECORDS LSU 5-3, 3-2 SEC; Arkansas 6-3, 2-3

RANKINGS LSU is No. 24 in the College Football Playoff poll; Arkansas is 25

BETTING LINE LSU by 7 LAST MEETING Arkansas won 31-14 last season in Baton Rouge.

LAST MEETING IN FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas won 17-0 in 2014.

COACHES Ed Orgeron (3-1 in interim year at LSU; 19-28 in fourth year overall); Bret Bielema (24-23 in fourth year at Arkansas, 92-47 in 11th year overall)

SERIES LSU leads 37-22-2

TELEVISION ESPN

RADIO Razorback Sports Network, including KABZ-FM103.7, in Little Rock; KQSM-FM, 92.1, KIGL-FM 93.3, KAKS-FM 99.5 and KUOA-AM 1290 in Fayetteville; KERX-FM 95.3 in Fort Smith, Sirius 108, XM 191

Sports on 11/12/2016

Print Headline: Prize fight

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