Saban Sneaked Peak At Hogs Last Week

LITTLE ROCK - LSU's Nick Saban, a coach so effective his name often is tossed about in most all NFL speculation, has been here and done this.

Twice.

Oh-for-2.

That's why his 14th-ranked and defending national champion Tigers began eyeing today's LSU-Arkansas matchup in War Memorial Stadium last week.

While Arkansas coach Houston Nutt insists he never does such things, intently focusing on one game at a time, Saban admitted this week to sneaking more than a peak at Arkansas last week before the unmotivated Tigers nudged past Ole Miss 27-24 in Baton Rouge.

Why?

The Hogs are a whole different deal, Saban said. They show multiple defensive looks, often unorthodox sets, and Arkansas loves to spray option plays and lengthier passes into its offense that no longer is predictably predicated on dives and draws.

"I think last year they were struggling to throw the ball," said Saban, noting the throwing shoulder problems of senior quarterback Matt Jones last season. "They are a much better passing team this year to go with what they do running the football than what I think they were a year ago. And I would say that's the biggest difference. And (Jones) is throwing it very effectively.

"And that balance they've been able to create with the threat of that, you know, makes it even more difficult to defend 'em."

We know, but Jones has been hampered by groin muscle and hamstring tweaks the last few weeks. All that came to a head during the 24-21 win at Mississippi State last week, when Jones was forced to sit in the pocket rather than scrambling and scampering to outside corners before sprinting upfield.

Nutt figures Jones was playing at about 60 percent last week. Those odds won't improve significantly today.

But don't count Arkansas out of this, especially in Little Rock, where Nutt is undefeated and the vastly-favored Tigers have dropped two straight (three counting Nutt's first season of 1998 when the No. 13 Hogs smashed unranked LSU 41-14).

"This game, to me, is a game in and of itself," Saban said. "Any time we play at Arkansas, I think it's got to be looked at. They obviously have a tradition of playing well at home and we have to take care of business in a special way when we go there and play.

"(And) they have some outstanding players. Obviously Matt Jones, who seems like he's been there a long, long time to me, and I haven't even been here for that long (Saban is in his fifth season) ... Certainly a guy that makes their offense go. He makes plays in so many ways whether it's to run the option or throwing the ball effectively.

"And they've done a very good job of improving their passing game this year. He scrambles and makes plays, scrambles and makes throws.

"And they have one of the best running games in the league, primarily because of what they do in the option game as well as their ability to run the ball.

"They haven't been sacked very much because they're difficult to pressure because of options and things that they do in their offense.

"So even though they're 5-5, three of their losses have come to what were top-10 teams (Texas, Auburn, Georgia) at the time they played 'em.

"And I think history speaks for itself in terms of how they play at home."

Especially here, where Saban hates to play, and Arkansas, which is fighting for bowl eligibility, may well add another positive chapter into its history book.

This is big for LSU, too, as the twice-beaten Tigers are flexing for better bowl position.

"This is a one-game season for us, obviously," Saban said. "I think bigger than that, this is a game in and of itself relative to the circumstance that we're going into.

"And I think everybody has to have a mindset that it's kind of a one-game season, just like you look at a bowl game.

"And we've got to get ourselves prepared to play probably our best football of the season on the road to be able to have success there."

During a teleconference this week, LSU beat reporters kept asking Saban about the difficulties of facing Nutt, Jones and company in War Memorial Stadium.

Finally, an exasperated Saban repeated his mantra.

"It's the most difficult preparation we've had all year," Saban said.

"Is that good enough?"

That remains to be seen.

But for LSU, it's probably a good thing the Tigers got off to a head start.

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