Auburn picked up a big win in Lexington last Thursday night against Kentucky. They continue their road trip in Fayetteville on Saturday, a place that has often been troublesome for Auburn squads of the past.
Bret Bielema sees this as a huge opportunity. Not only because his team is 2-4, but because he (and his fan base - allegedly) have an issue with Auburn. No doubt Arkansas will be eager to play even with the early morning kickoff.
Meanwhile, if Auburn can leave Arkansas with a victory, they'll be 5-2, (most likely) headed for a bowl game, and much more confident than they looked a few short weeks ago. It's a big swing game.
Sean White hasn't turned the ball over since his first quarter interception against Mississippi State. He's provided stability at the quarterback position and shown real signs of progress, especially last week in Lexington. I thought he looked extremely confident and comfortable in every situation he was put in.
The offensive line has taken steps forward, and Auburn is statistically a better running team than Arkansas at the moment. Defensively, the big issue has been 3rd down and long. Auburn is one of the best in the SEC on third downs on offense, and one of the worst on defense.
Rush defense (especially allowing a big run or two each game) has been an issue for the Tigers. You know that's driving Will Muschamp crazy. I consider it a good sign that when they had to get a stop at the end of the game, they got one. Obviously there's still a long way to go on defense.
Arkansas lost to Toledo because of red zone inefficiency, lost close games to Texas Tech and Texas A&M, and played Alabama tough in Bryant-Denny. I agree with Gus Malzahn, who said this week that the Hogs' record is deceiving.
Alex Collins is one of the league's best running backs. Arkansas lost their other tailback Jonathan Williams before the season, but still has a dangerous running game behind the nation's biggest offensive line. Senior Brandon Allen is having a good season with 10 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions.
While they have thrown the ball more than expected this season, this team still has a Bielema feel to it. They run the ball behind a massive offensive line, incorporate play action passes, and play mostly fundamentally sound defense. Auburn probably has the better roster overall, but this feels like a pretty even matchup given what has happened this season.
I hope Auburn comes out as hungry and aggressive as they did last Thursday night. Each win needs to be fought for with intensity at this point. I believe there are more winnable games on the schedule than people think, but the margin for error with this Auburn team is not very high. Here are some keys to an Auburn victory:
1. 'Special' Special Teams - Kickoff returns have been awesome the last few weeks. They're close to breaking one for a touchdown. Maybe this is the week? Carlson has quietly been having a great year and we have a good punter in Kevin Phillips.
2. Trust Sean White - It seems like Gus and the offensive staff gave Sean a chance to earn their trust early in last week's game and he rewarded them. Our offense looked balanced for the first time all year and it paid dividends. Kerryon Johnson and Peyton Barber will find more space OR Sean will have lots of one on one opportunities which he exploited last week.
3. Improve on 3rd and Long - When the Auburn defense gets a chance to get off the field in a 3rd and long situation, they need to get it done. You don't want to yield a first down and then face Alex Collins again on a fresh set of downs. Negative plays and incompletions will be key to getting Arkansas behind the chains and then we must capitalize on those opportunities.
How to Watch, Stream, And Listen
Time: 11am CDT
TV: SEC Network
Internet Audio: Auburn IMG Network