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GAME PREVIEW: Auburn @ #17 Arkansas

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Game 7: Off to Fayettenam

NCAA Football: Auburn at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

I often wonder about how certain things are passed from generation to generation. Hair color, eye color, mannerisms, voices, all that jazz. Kids take on the physical traits and oftentimes the mental aspects of their parents. Nature, right?

What about the other side of the coin? Nurture. That comes from something learned as a result of your environment. You could almost say that many Auburn fans who either came of age in the 90s and 00s or just don’t really remember any differently before Gus Malzahn were nurtured to expect annoyance and pain at the hands of Arkansas.

My most formative football years — when I really understood the game and the history — came during the early 2000s. I watched as Auburn went to Fayetteville in 2001 and got blasted, then did the same thing at home in 2002 (BOTH AT 11 AM), and then turned around and got McFaddened in 2006 by the guy who would become our head coach several years later (AT 11 AM)!

It was almost in Auburn’s blood at that point. We were going to have tough games against Arkansas. Tommy Tuberville certainly didn’t seem to understand it. Gene Chizik started his first season at 5-0 before getting whacked in Fayetteville (AT 11 AM), and it could have been the loss to John L. Smith (AT 11 AM) that really made us realize that 2012 was going to be as bad as it ended up.

Then came our northwest Arkansan savior. Gus decided that he didn’t really want to have to go visit family during the holidays and hear about it, or listen to a grown man squeal like a pig —

— it’s not as bad as getting barked at, but’s part of the weirdness that completes the SEC experience. Either way, Gus said absolutely not. His compendium of victories against Arkansas? An overall 7-1 record, with the margins of victory coming in at 18, 24, 53, 32, 31, 41, and 2. His lone loss? A 54-46 quadruple overtime affair in the rain in Fayetteville. He made sure that the bacon sizzled and it was good eatin’ on the Plains when Arkansas rolled onto the schedule.

So, did Gus break that streak that Auburn coaches had? The one where the Hogs were gonna getcha? We’ll see if he was just the outcast in the family line, or if it was all just a temporary function of the times. Bryan Harsin gets his first crack at the Pigs, and his first crack at the 11 AM road SEC matchup as well.

Both teams are coming in off of losses, licking their wounds, and figuring out how to make things right after losses (in Arkansas’ case, it’s two consecutive defeats). Both sides lost to Georgia over the past two weeks, but Arkansas is trying to understand what happened when they gave up more than 600 yards to Ole Miss in a 52-51 loss last weekend. Auburn would love to find the running room that the Rebels did (324 yards and 5 touchdowns on 49 carries), but the Pigs weren’t slouchy last week either on offense. They went for 676 total yards, and came within a missed two-point conversion of stealing a huge win.

Now, what can we expect to see from them? Are they lifeless and listless after two straight SEC defeats? Did coming so close and falling short really dash their hopes and dreams? We can only hope so. Certainly things have always gone well for Auburn in that stadium for a morning kickoff.

WHEN ARKANSAS HAS THE BALL: Early on this season, Arkansas ran through Texas and Texas A&M and the main focus of what we all saw was that quarterback KJ Jefferson was dubbed as another Cam Newton. As silly as that sounds, he’s still been very good for them. While he only threw for 65 yards in the loss to Georgia, he’s hit the 300 yard mark twice this year, and he’s gotten 9 touchdowns with just 3 picks. On the ground, he’s averaging more than 5 yards per carry with another 3 scores. He’s big at 6’3, 245, and he can move and sling it.

If Auburn wants to contain him, it’ll likely come down to shutting down (or slowing down) his favorite target in Treylon Burks. If Kayshon Boutte was the top receiver in the SEC, then Burks is probably number two. A prototype receiver at 6’3, 225, he can grab anything and skip away from you just as easily. Auburn had great success with Boutte after that first drive, so hopefully Derek Mason can figure out a coverage scheme that’ll lock up Burks as well.

But, Arkansas has always been a power run team at heart, from Houston Nutt until now, and Sam Pittman’s no different. He’s revamped the offensive line, made them meaner, and they’ve started to push people around as opposed to the garbage that we saw routinely under Bielema and Morris. Thankfully, Auburn’s best strength is its run defense, and we just have to hope that we’re not going to get someone thrown out in the first two series this weekend like we did with Smoke Monday last Saturday.

WHEN AUBURN HAS THE BALL: You know, I’ve been wondering what this offense will look like when it finally settles in, and I really have no idea if and when that’ll actually happen. One week, we’re a balanced offense trying to spread the ball around to different targets and get multiple backs involved in the run game, and the next we’re just backyarding with Bo.

I think it’s safe to say that Bryan Harsin and Mike Bobo will be able to figure out something to do with the run game this week, especially since Arkansas has been on a steady trend with opponent rushing yards looking like the S&P 500 over the past several weeks. After allowing just 81 yards in that sneaky close game against Rice, they’ve gone from allowing 138 to Texas to 273 against Georgia to 324 against Ole Miss. It’s not getting any better for that defense, and this is Auburn’s chance to have both Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter get back in the groove after a few weeks of tough run defenses.

However, the most important thing to focus on is absolutely the passing game. Namely, can our wide receivers catch the ball. I know they’re capable, we saw that absolute dime that Bo Nix put on Demetris Robertson down the sideline last weekend. They just can’t catch the easy stuff. It’s ridiculous. I don’t know the actual drop count last week, whether it was 7 or 9 or 12, but the receivers single-handedly kept that from being a close game in the second half. Auburn must get better there, but at least most of the mistakes are self-inflicted at this point and could ostensibly improve (if you choose to look on the bright side).

In the end, this game is ripe for anything. It could be a continuation of Auburn’s dominance over the Hogs as of late, or it could end up being a very rude entry into the world of former Jefferson Pilot October morning voodoo for Bryan Harsin. We won’t know until kickoff. In the meantime, make sure to have some extra sausage for breakfast today.

SERIES HISTORY: Auburn leads the all-time series 18-11-1, having taken the last 5 matchups and 7 of the last 8.

LAST MEETING: Hey, remember the Bo Nix backward spike? This game turned out to be the 2020est of all, with Auburn blowing 17-6 and 27-18 leads before driving down the field for a go-ahead field goal. With time winding down, Auburn had to stop the clock and went for the classic spike, but Bo Nix turned around to spike it and the play was blown dead when it should’ve been an all-timer of a gaffe. Instead, the refs said that they had blown the whistle and Auburn got to run the next plays, leading to an Anders Carlson field goal with seconds to play. Auburn won 30-28. Oops.

LAST WEEK: Both teams lost last week, with Auburn falling to Georgia 34-10 and Arkansas getting their heart ripped out by Ole Miss 52-51.

KEYS FOR AUBURN:

  1. Catch the ball. This ought to stay up to the top of our keys every week until we get it right. I’m not exactly sure what “right” means, but not dropping every clutch pass would be a nice start. Maybe not relying quite so much on the passing game would be a start, but the Tigers have to be able to make plays through the air and take the pressure of the run game.
  2. Impose your will in the run game, finally. It’s been a while since we saw Tank and Jarquez have some good solid success. Over the past two games, it’s pretty much been a wasteland in the run game save for the game-winning drive against LSU. What they did was insert some wrinkles and find a way to win matchups on the outside and it worked out. Jarquez Hunter ripped off about 55 yards on the last drive, and it won the game. Now, we need to see more of that from the start. I like the idea of getting things loosened up with Shaun Shivers out of the backfield, but again, he’s got to catch the ball.
  3. Make sure Bryan Harsin prepares for this game like it’ll be the hardest one he’s ever coached in. This is the time that things would start to get weird, and after getting up for Penn State, LSU, and Georgia over a four week stretch, it could get a little difficult to motivate for this game. Mike Bobo and the other SEC lifers on the staff should be able to help, but Harsin has to know how weird it can get to waltz into an opposing stadium and your vision gets grainy like the only cameras Lincoln Financial could afford.

Kickoff is imminent, let’s get after it. War Eagle!