Cautionary tale time, y’all.
Let’s flash back to the olden days... the Tuberville days.
Remember when Auburn would be riding high for one reason or another, and then all of a sudden some wretched 11 am CST kickoff gets announced? Oh, and it’s against Arkansas. Hmm. Oh, and they’re going to treat this game like it’s their Super Bowl. Huh. Surely we’re not going to fall asleep at the wheel and let an average team roll us over, are we?
WRONG. It happened time and again. I watched us get slammed by the Hogs way back in the day, and Tommy Tuberville somehow rarely ever figured out that you have to play every week in the SEC like it’s a real damn game. In 2006, I got the worst sunburn ever on my face as I watched our own Gus Malzahn use Darren McFadden and Reggie Fish as little checkers, double-jumping all over a Will Muschamp defense. I saw Daniel Cobb throw interceptions and Fred Talley (where’s that guy been?) run around our defense like it didn’t exist. And that was a Chizik defense!
However, things have changed.
One coach from Arkansas left, and shortly thereafter, another coach from Arkansas arrived. Only this time, the Arkansan didn’t like to get beat by the Hogs, and tried his hardest to obliterate them. It didn’t hurt that you had a large antagonizer on the other sideline in Bret Bielema, but Gus Malzahn has always done his best to turn the Razorbacks into mediocre pulled pork.
2013: 35-17 win, Tre Mason scores four touchdowns.
2014: 45-21 win, Auburn “escapes” Arkansas. The Jeremy Johnson hype train gets out of control, an CAP rolls for 177.
2015: The only loss for Gus against his former mistress, a 54-46 four-overtime affair in the rain where the Tigers dropped passes like crazy.
2016: 56-3 revenge win. Eli Stove scores a 78-yard touchdown on Auburn’s first play from scrimmage, and the Tigers roll for 543 yards on the ground, just shy of the 545 we posted in the 2013 SEC Championship.
2017: 52-20 win, Auburn rebounds from a loss against LSU and roasts the Hogs. Ryan Davis throws a 62-yard touchdown to Darius Slayton, and Kam Pettway rumbled for three scores of his own.
So, Gus knows how to beat Arkansas. He knows how to do it. But tonight’s game has a forgotten feeling. Do people not realize that the season’s still on? The sky is falling in many circles because we lost a game. People saw how we lost, and that’s why we didn’t drop out of the top ten in the AP Poll. We’re exactly where we started the season, and we’ll have plenty of opportunity to climb back up into the upper crust of the rankings before Amen Corner hits.
We’re favored by 30 points. THIRTY. In a conference game. That’s more than invincible Alabama is favored over Texas A&M. I understand that Arkansas has been a special type of bad this season, but that’s unthinkable.
Long story short, Auburn needs a game like this. It matters in the conference standings. It matters in terms of getting things corrected. It matters in getting back some of the fans who think that football got canceled after LSU won last weekend.
Yes, there’s room for improvement. What team can’t say that three weeks in? Nobody.
Here’s what we’re looking for tonight — few penalties (and help us if there’s a single pass interference called — the crowd might abduct the officials), no turnovers, progress in the interior offensive line, and the big plays that we’re used to seeing. If those things happen, then Auburn covers easily. If not, Auburn still might cover. Gus probably doesn’t want to run up the score on his buddy Chad Morris, but Arkansas is a bad team, no lie.
Still, it’s a conference game — A DIVISION GAME — at night, at home. Get there, get loud, support the team, strike up the band, give ‘em hell, hey. Everything we still want is on the table, it just comes at a higher price now, and we’ll take some of that scratch from Arkansas tonight.