Tigers hope to start another high flying season!
(Photo save-as ‘ed from somewhere a long time ago, and edited. Can’t remember…)
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now to start previewing Auburn’s upcoming opponents. On August 30th, Auburn kicks off at home against the Arkansas Razorbacks, at 3 PM Central time on the SEC Network. There’s been a bit of a war of words between the two coaches, ever since last summer’s SEC Media Days. Make no mistake, both head men have this day circled on their calendars!
It’s a crucial game for both teams. I think it’s awesome to open the season with an SEC opponent. I can remember when that used to really start the season with a bang, back in the 1990s, when Auburn used to open with Ole Miss. There is a lot on the line for both teams, in this game. A loss by Auburn pretty much derails any thought of being a BCS contender next season. A loss by Arkansas continues a two-year slide, and would be embarrassing considering that head coach Bret Bielema has openly stated that the Razorbacks used spring drills to prepare for the Tigers.
Auburn retains the exact same staff from a year ago, and has a great head start on this season with 7 returning starters on defense, and 7 returning on defense, including quarterback Nick Marshall. Arkansas isn’t so lucky. They lost defensive coordinator Chris Ash to Ohio State, and have promoted Rob Smith to the coordinator position. Smith has instituted a “pressure defense” philosophy, sure to improve numbers for a moribund defense that gave up 413 yards per game last season, and gave up over 30 points per game. With pressure comes the risk of giving up big plays. And no team in the SEC generated more big offensive plays last season than Auburn did.
Defensively, Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson returns a lot of veteran defenders on a unit that held Arkansas to 17 points last season in Fayetteville. Arkansas was able to run the ball effectively at times on Auburn, but the passing game was a shambles. Ellis Johnson this spring introduced a “Rhino Package” defense that included tackles Gabe Wright and Montravius Adams at defensive end, a move that was surely aimed at slowing down jumbo-sets Arkansas uses. There’s no guarantee that Arkansas will throw much better this season, as likely quarterback starter Brandon Allen had a pretty slow start this year in the spring game, finishing 12-21 for 108 yards, one score and two picks against the second team and below defense. Arkansas has some ridiculous running backs, though, but questions on the offensive line. Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams were stout carrying the rock, and Korliss Marshall, a physical freak has moved to running back full time.
After what seems like ten years, outstanding veteran kicker/punter Zach Hocker is gone. Sophomore John Henson will likely kick, and JUCO transfer Sam Irwin-Hill is the punter-apparent. Arkansas will use the speedy Korliss Marshall at both return spots.
Unit matchups, after the jump!
Auburn defensive line vs. Arkansas offensive line: Auburn’s final starting lineup on Labor Day weekend is a bit up in the air, at this point. I’d expect senior Gabe Wright to start somewhere, either at tackle or end. Expect tackles Angelo Blackson, Jeffery Whitaker, Montravius Adams, and Ben Bradley to all play prominent roles. LaDarius Owens will likely anchor the run-stopping end spot, with Carl Lawson taking on the rush-end spot. Expect a heavy dose of Elijah Daniel off the bench, as well as any other young linemen from a deep unit that are healthy and have proved themselves in fall camp. Across the Arkansas front, the Hogs will start sophomore Dan Skipper and senior Brey Cook at tackles, redshirt freshman Reeve Koehler and sophomore Denver Kirkland at guards, and there’s a bit of a war going on to replace departed Remmington award-winning center Travis Swanson at center. Right now, the man is senior Luke Charpentier, but he’s got competition. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn linebackers vs. Arkansas backs: Auburn’s starting linebackers coming out of spring drills are juniors Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy. Both are veteran, athletic SEC players, looking to make the next move up. For purposes of playing Arkansas, you’ll have to count star Robensen Therezie, and backup Justin Garrett as linebackers, and it’s going to be interesting to see how they fare against some of the bigger Arkansas backs and tight ends. Auburn is going to have to be strong here, because the Hogs will test Auburn at the line of scrimmage. Arkansas has some ridiculously good backs. As mentioned above, junior Jonathan Williams, sophomore Alex Collins and sophomore Korliss Marshall will give lots of SEC defenses fits this fall, if they can get a little blocking. At fullback, Arkansas will start big junior Kody Walker. Advantage: Even.
Auburn corners vs. Arkansas receivers: Auburn is again fairly deep at corner, with veteran Jonathan Mincy locking down one spot, and either junior Joshua Holsey or junior Jonathan Jones at the other spot. Senior converted wide receiver Trovon Reed also looked pretty good in spring drills here. Auburn should be able to run with any SEC receiving corps, and play physical run defense on the edges. Senior Demetrius Wilson and junior Keon Hatcher will likely start for the Hogs at receiver. That’s a combined 27 catches and 2 touchdowns returning for the Hogs. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn safeties vs. Arkansas secondary receivers and quarterback: Senior Jermaine Whitehead anchors one spot here, and Auburn will feature either junior Joshua Holsey, or JUCO transfer Derrick Moncrief at the other position. Moncrief was a beast in spring drills, this year, and Holsey is a veteran. The Arkansas idea of a secondary receiver is a big tight end or back floating out on in the flat. Sophomore tight end Hunter Henry was second on the team in receptions last season with 28, and 4 touchdowns, so he bears watching. That said, Arkansas did not do a great job checking down last year, and I’d expect veteran offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to improve on that this season. Arkansas will likely start veteran junior Brandon Allen again at quarterback this season, as last year’s other players A. J. Derby and Damon Mitchell have moved to receiver positions. Allen hit just 49 percent of his passes last season, with 13 scores and 10 picks. Advantage: Auburn.
Punting: Auburn must start a new punter, here, going with redshirt freshman Jimmy Hutchenson, who had a really solid A-Day game. Arkansas will likely start senior Sam Irwin-Hill, who was a bit of a revelation last season, supplanting veteran Zach Hocker. Irwin Hill averaged a commanding 44.3 yards per punt, and led the SEC with 20 punts killed inside the 20. For good measure, Irwin-Hill also completed a fake punt/pass for 24 yards, and ran 12 yards for a first down against Alabama on a fake punt. On coverage, Auburn was stifling last season, allowing only 5 returns all season, for 35 yards. Arkansas gave up 13.2 yards per return. Auburn is hunting a new return man this season. For Arkansas, Korliss Marshall is new at the position also, but was dangerous as a kick returner last season. Advantage: Arkansas.
Kickoffs: Both kickoff men will be new, here. Presumably redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson will take over for Cody Parkey, for Auburn. He showed a massive leg this past April, in spring drills. Sophomore John Henson takes over for the Razorbacks. Both teams were suspect in kick coverage, with Arkansas giving up 24.2 yards per return, and Auburn giving up 25.8. Arkansas will utilize return man Korliss Marshall as the feature guy. Marshall averaged 22.2 yards per return last season. Auburn used a rotation last season. The best man returning is senior Corey Grant, who ripped off 5 returns for a 32.0 yard average, and a TD against Tennessee. Advantage: Auburn.
Place kicking: Auburn redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson is the man for Auburn. He hit a monster 51 yard field goal this year in the Auburn A-Day game, but also missed an extra point. Arkansas goes with John Henson, who hasn’t missed any kick in his career as a backup at Arkansas. Advantage: Even.
Auburn offensive line vs. Arkansas defensive line: Auburn returns 4 starters on a road-grading, violent offensive line. Greg Robinson moves on to the NFL, but Auburn has talent to replace him. From left to right, it’s sophomore Shon Coleman, sophomore Alex Kozan, senior all-SEC Reese Dismukes, senior Chad Slade, and sophomore Avery Young, with junior Patrick Miller still in the hunt to perhaps unseat one of the tackles for a starting job. Arkansas took some hits on the defensive line from graduation, but still should be pretty good. Senior Trey Flowers should again be a terror at rush-end, and sophomore tackle Darius Philon was a revelation at tackle last season. Sophomore Deatrich Wise emerged this spring as a good defensive end, reminiscent of the long armed “Too Tall Jones” of Dallas Cowboy lore. Add in veteran junior Demarcus Hodge at tackle, and the Hogs should be solid up front. Auburn should handle ‘em, though. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn backs vs. Arkansas linebackers: Although Auburn lost Heisman finalist Tre Mason early to the NFL draft, Auburn should be fine here with seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant. Grant was this year’s A-Day star, looking even more explosive and unstoppable. Add in a corps of talented newcomers, and it’s no secret Auburn will be able to tote the rock again this season. H-back is a bit thinner. Senior blocking specialist Brandon Fulse moves from end/receiver to take over the starting nod, but depth behind him is questionable. At linebacker, Arkansas will start seniors Braylon Mitchell and Martrell Spaight, with sophomore Brooks Ellis. That’s just 132 tackles returning between three guys, a low total, and just 5 tackles for a loss. Last season Arkansas gave up 178 yards per game on the ground, and a ridiculous 4.7 yards per carry. That’s got to improve this year, and the Razorbacks will cram the box to do it. Time will tell if they are any more effective. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn receivers vs. Arkansas corners: Auburn juniors Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis developed into one of the more dangerous receiving duos in the SEC, last season. Add in monster transfer D’haquille Williams, and this unit became downright scary this spring, with lots of depth behind the big three. Arkansas will start senior Tevin Mitchell and junior Will Hines at corners. These two combined for 11 passes defended all of last season. By comparison, Auburn’s starting duo last season defended 30 balls. Arkansas gave up an ugly 7.9 yards per pass last season. Big advantage: Auburn.
Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. Arkansas safeties: Auburn senior tight end C. J. Uzomah is a nightmare for safeties to cover. When Auburn needed to go to him late in games last season, C. J. was there every time to haul in the score. Auburn also has senior Quan Bray in the equation, who’s been the career quick screen guy. When guys start to clamp down on him, he can get open down the field. Senior safety Allen Turner was the goalie for Arkansas, last season, turning in a team-high 97 tackles. He’ll be back, but the Razorbacks need him to be more effective inside the first down marker, rather than making last-ditch tackles. Junior Rohan Gaines was also solid last season, but both of these guys need a lot more help from the front seven, than they got last year. Auburn returns senior quarterback Nick Marshall, and he’s easily the most dangerous guy returning at the position in the SEC this fall. With a spring spent working on a shaky passing game, the sky’s the limit this fall. Marshall was devastating running the zone-read option last fall. Advantage: Auburn.
The reality of this opening matchup is that both coaches like physical, hard-nosed football, and tend to beat their guys up in fall camp getting ready. However, unless there is a serious injury inequity, Auburn has a lot more big time players, and is at home for this one.
Prediction: Auburn is too much for the visitors in their SEC Title opening defense. Arkansas falls, 38-10.
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