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McFadden and Jones Pose Stiff Challenge For Auburn

By Jay Coulter
jccoulter@gmail.com

Playing in Northwest Arkansas has never been easy for Tommy Tuberville. Even though he calls Arkansas home, the locals have never been all that warm. Tuberville carries a 2-2 record in games played in Fayetteville (while at Auburn).

Saturday night will be no less challenging. Auburn will face a pair of backs that are every bit as talented as former Tigers Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown. And they operate in much the same way the Tiger tandem did three years ago.

Darren McFadden may fall short in the race for the Heisman, but he’s without question the best running back in the country. He’s rushed for more than 100 yards in each game this season and is averaging 155.8 yards a game. The only thing that might slow him down is that he’s still nursing sore ribs.

"He is about as good as I have seen in all my years of coaching," said Tuberville. "He is very illusive, he is physical, and he can run. He can outrun anybody that we have on our team and most teams in this country. He has that much ability. They are putting him at quarterback. They are putting him in certain positions so that he can get the ball many times."

When McFadden is taking a breather, the Tigers will get a healthy dose of Felix Jones, who may be the second best back in America. Jones comes into the game averaging 126.2 yards a game.

It looks like Auburn will get a break at the wide receiver position. All-SEC receiver Marcus Monk is doubtful for Saturday night. Recovering from a knee injury, Monk has been pointing to the Auburn game all year as his return to the lineup.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt says that’s not likely.

"I would love to say yes, but I don’t think he is going to be ready," said Nutt. "He is trying every single day. He is getting a little closer. We just don’t know for sure if he will be able to play this weekend."

While the Razorbacks have a potent offense, the same can’t be said of the defense. Led by former Auburn linebackers coach Reggie Herring (1986-91), Arkansas has been unable to stop the run.

Last week against Chattanooga, the Razorbacks gave up 161 yards of rushing. Look for a healthy dose of Brad Lester, Ben Tate and Mario Fannin.

Defensively, the question is simple. Can Will Muschamp come up with enough healthy players to stop McFadden and Jones?

It looks as if Auburn will be without the services again this week of linebackers Tray Blackmon and Merrill Johnson. Defensive end Quentin Groves is also unlikely to see action.

Tuberville says he’s very pleased with his defense, but worries about the injuries on that side of the ball.

"We are becoming a very good defense although we still don't have a lot of our guys out on the field," said Tuberville. "It's one of those things where we need to get as many people back as we can, but we will have to wait and see until Saturday to see what happens.

"Quentin Groves went about 50 percent today (Tuesday), and Tray Blackmon the same thing. Aairon Savage and Merrill Johnson did not practice. We are still in the situation where we are going to have to depend a lot on our young players."

On the offensive side of the ball, all eyes will again be on the offensive line where Jason Bosley is out at center. That means freshman Ryan Pugh will move over from left tackle to take Bosley’s place.

This means another opportunity for senior King Dunlap to make an impression on coaches when he starts at left tackle.

"His (Dunlap’s) fire is burning a little bit hotter," said Tuberville. "He knows he has to pick his intensity up. King has a lot of ability and when he hurt his arm, his intensity wasn't there.

"Coach (Hugh) Nall is looking for a group that will play together plus everybody is going at the same speed. Injuries will keep that from happening. Now that he is healthy, I think he will pick up where he started earlier in the year. He played much better at the beginning of the year."