War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn preview. On October 8th, Auburn travels to Fayetteville to play the Arkansas Razorbacks. The game is part of a murderous October of top SEC teams for Auburn. Ever since head coach Bobby Petrino took over the Arkansas football team, Auburn has had trouble stopping the Hogs. Arkansas has scored 112 points on Auburn in the past three years, the most of any opponent. This year’s Razorback team is loaded with skill players, and could put up big numbers again.
Coming into this game, Arkansas’ early slate has Missouri State, New Mexico and Troy at home, then
Alabama and Texas A&M on the road. The first three fodder games should give the team time to jell, and then a couple of tough road games should have the Razorbacks tuned up for the big home game against Auburn. The Tigers will have played Utah State, Mississippi State, at Clemson, Florida Atlantic, and at South Carolina.
I think last season’s 65-43 Auburn victory over Arkansas shocked a lot of folks. On paper, the 22-point win was the largest margin of victory for the Tigers in the series. For those who remember the game, it was a lot closer than the final margin indicated. There were five lead changes in the game. Auburn received the benefit of the doubt on several close calls. There was the Mario Fannin fumble near the goal line that Arkansas recovered. It was ruled a touchdown. There was a Knile Davisfumble that was returned by Zach Etheridge for an Auburn score. Replay revealed that Davis was probably down on the play before the fumble. Auburn also turned in one of the most unlikely blocked punts you are ever going to see by Antonio Goodwin. Auburn punched out the 3 touchdown margin in the 4th quarter after Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, in his first serious action, threw a couple of ill-advised throws into coverage late. In short, this was a see-saw game that could have gone either way.
Among the Arkansas receivers and backs, the only significant loss from last season is tight end D. J. Williams. Greg Childs leads a talented wide receiver corps that has at least 8 SEC-caliber players. Thousand yard rusher Knile Davis is back, as well both of his backups. Junior quarterback Tyler Wilson had an impressive debut last fall against Auburn, and he’ll likely lead the team in 2011. Wilson had some impressive moments in Arkansas’ spring game, and some mistakes. The question for the Razorback offense this season is the offensive line. Three starters must be replaced, and the Razorback staff spent a lot of the spring moving guys around. Some say that the staff likes to cross-train linemen. Others opine that the line was taking a beating most practices. This could be a key weakness for Auburn’s defensive ends to exploit.
The Arkansas defense has steadily improved each year under Bobby Petrino and defensive coordinator Willy Robinson. Last season, the Razorbacks gave up 23.4 points per game, but that number is skewed by the 65 they gave up to Auburn. It’s a statistical anomaly, as Arkansas did not give up more than 31 to anyone else. Take out the Auburn game, and Arkansas gave up only 19.9 points per game. The biggest loss for the Razorbacks to graduation is defensive end Demario Ambrose. He takes his size and speed to the NFL (if there is an NFL, this year!). Still, the Razorbacks are hoping for much-improved line play this season, led by juniors DeQuinta Jonesand Alfred Davis. Both guys have size and strength. In the Arkansas spring game, the defensive front seven generated pressure and stopped the run pretty well. The secondary produced several turnovers, but was prone to giving up the big play with blown coverages and spotty tackling.
The special teams returnees are led by sophomore kicker Zach Hocker, who was very consistent in 2010. Senior return man Joe Adams is among the best at it. Last season statistically, the Razorbacks were great returning punts, and pretty average running back kickoffs. Their kickoff coverage was spotty, but punt coverage was good. Junior punter Dylan Breeding returns as well, after a good season in 2010.
Unit Matchups after the jump!
Auburn defensive line vs. Arkansas offensive line: There are matchups here for both teams to exploit. Auburn had apparent problems in the A-Day game at defensive tackle, and that spells trouble against a couple of returning starters, sophomores Travis Swanson and freshman all-American Alvin Bailey, who play center and guard, respectively. Arkansas must replace both offensive tackles, and that could be trouble against Nosa Eguae, Dee Ford and Corey Lemonier, who are all expected to make some noise from the end position. Projected new Razorbacks starter at guard is senior Grant Cook, who has experience. Tackles were still rotating at the end of spring drills. Those names are Brey Cook, Jason Peacock,Grant Freeman and Anthony Oden. Freshman Brey Cook is probably the most athletic, and the Razorbacks hope to have him up to speed at left tackle by mid-season. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn linebackers vs. Arkansas backs: The Tigers did a fair job against the Razorbacks last season at linebacker, despite being in a nickel defense most of the day. Unfortunately, both Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens have graduated. Auburn replacements Eltoro Freeman and Jonathan Evans do have a lot of experience shutting down the SEC’s better backs. In addition to junior Knile Davis, the Razorbacks have senior Broderick Green who’s quite the battering ram, junior Ronnie Wingo who also has good size, and junior speedster Dennis Johnson who returns after an injury-marred season. Advantage: Arkansas.
Auburn corners vs. Arkansas receivers: Last year’s Arkansas game was a trying one for the Auburn corners. They had some early success jamming receivers at the line, but in the end gave up 428 passing yards and 5 touchdowns. Both starters have moved on, Demond Washington graduated, and Neiko Thorpe moved to safety. This year Auburn will start T’Sharvan Bell and Chris Davis, with help from freshmen Jonathan Mincy and Jonathan Rose. There’s a serious size disadvantage for Auburn in this matchup, with the exception of Rose. Arkansas returns everyone, including seniors Greg Childs, Jarius Wright and Joe Adams, and junior Cobi Hamilton. Arkansas’ 4 and 5-wide sets will be a nightmare to defend. Advantage: Arkansas.
Auburn safeties vs. Arkansas secondary receivers and quarterback: Last season, the Auburn safeties had to guard against being beaten deep, and chase the ball after the catch. This year’s edition with Neiko Thorpe and Demetruce McNeal has more speed, and should be able to help out in coverage more. By game six, they should be settled in. Razorback junior Chris Gragg looks to replace the departed D. J. Williams. Gragg caught 8 balls last season, for a whopping 21.4 yard average. The Arkansas offense uses rotating receivers, so any of the group in the previous section could be used here and be dangerous. Junior quarterback Tyler Wilson had a great game against Auburn last season, and there’s little reason to believe that won’t be the case again. Auburn’s best hope is to get Wilson on the ground early and often, and force coach Petrino to slow things down with the run. More likely, we’ll see a lot of quick passes against a Ted Roof cushion zone. Advantage: Arkansas.
Punting: Auburn will field sophomore Steven Clark, who had a several shaky starts last fall. If the A-Day game is any indication, Clark will boast a much stronger leg this fall. Arkansas returns junior Dylan Breeding, who averaged 42.5 yards per punt, with 18 killed inside the 20 vs. only 6 touchbacks. Arkansas has dangerous senior return man Joe Adams, who managed 15.6 yards per return last year, while Auburn is still hunting for a return man who won’t fumble. Last year Auburn held opponents to 4.5 yards per return, Arkansas gave up 5.4. Advantage: Arkansas.
Kickoffs: Auburn sophomore Cody Parkey was used about a third of the time last season, and he averaged 63.2 yards per kickoff. Auburn was second in the SEC last season in kick coverage, helped by a nasty coverage team. Arkansas loses strong legAlex Tejada, and may use kicker Zach Hocker in his place. Auburn gave up 19.7 yards per kick return a year ago, and Arkansas gave up 25.6. Auburn junior Onterio McCalebb figures to be the primary kick returner. McCalebb averaged 28.4 yards per return in 2010. Lance Ray handled the bulk of the Razorback kickoffs last season with a 22.5 yard average, but senior Dennis Johnson is back this season for the Hogs. Johnson had over 1000 kick return yards in 2009. Advantage: Even.
Place kicking: Sophomore Cody Parkey takes over as the Auburn kicker. His only college experience is a couple of extra points kicked late in the Homecoming game. Parkey is said to have had a good spring. Parkey’s backup Chandler Brooks hit three field goals longer than 40 yards in Auburn’s A-Day Game. Sophomore Zach Hocker returns for Arkansas. In his freshman season, Hocker hit 16 of 19 field goals, and all of his extra points. This included 7 of 9 from 40 yards or longer. Advantage: Arkansas
Auburn offensive line vs. Arkansas defensive line: Inside, Auburn came out of spring with sophomore Blake Burgess starting at center, with senior Jared Cooperand junior John Sullen at the guard slots. Only Sullen has significant front-line playing time. Tackles will be seniors Brandon Mosley and A. J. Greene. Arkansas returns a mammoth pair of tackles in sophomore Bryan Jones and junior DeQuinta Jones. Neither produced any sacks last season, but they were a force clogging the middle of the line. Senior end Jake Bequette led the team in sacks last season with 7. Penciled in on the other side is Junior pass-rush specialist Tenarius Wright, who posted 6 sacks last year. There is depth in this unit as well. Advantage: Even.
Auburn backs vs. Arkansas linebackers: The Razorbacks got hammered last year by Auburn for 330 rushing yards, at a 6.7 yard per carry clip, and that was with starting running back Michael Dyer hampered by a leg injury. Of course, Cam Newton did a lot of that damage. The Tigers do return the one-two punch of Michael Dyer and Onterrio McCalebb at running back. Arkansas loses starter Anthony Leon, but return seniors Jerry Franklin and Jerico Nelson. These two combined for 187 tackles a year ago. Junior Terrell Williams looks to step up to the open starting slot. Williams had 42 tackles a year ago. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn receivers vs. Arkansas corners: Auburn will rely heavily on returning veteran Emory Blake, and intriguing prospects DeAngelo Benton and Quindarius Carr. Arkansas loses starter Ramon Broadway, but retains the services of senior cornerback Issac Madison. The other starter may be either sophomore Jerry Mitchell or junior Darius Winston. Arkansas uses a lot of man coverage, and it is feast or famine back there. It’s not a unit that can be pecked to death with five yard hitches, but it does sometimes give up the big play. Most accounts of Arkansas’ spring game this year bemoaned poor tackling in the open field. Advantage: Even.
Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. Arkansas safeties: Auburn’s most notable returning secondary receiver is tight end/h-back Phillip Lutzenkirchen, who was a clutch go-to guy last year. About half of his catches resulted in touchdowns. The Tigers also have options from the speedy Trovon Reed to the 290 pound H-Back LaDarius Phillips. Auburn is still in the midst of a quarterback race, but junior Barrett Trotter seems to have the upper hand at this point. Regardless of whether Trotter or sophomore Clint Moseley start, Auburn will field a quarterback with three year’s worth of experience practicing the Gus Malzhan offensive system. Arkansas loses Rudel Crim at safety, but returns seniorTramain Thomas, who was third on the team with 83 tackles. With 4 interceptions and 5 pass breakups, he was a force in coverage as well. Sophomore Eric Bennett moves up to take the other safety slot. Bennett played in 12 games as a freshman, and had 15 tackles. The Tigers have too many weapons in the slot, and with Trotter’s quick release, they’ll be tough to defend. Advantage: Auburn.
All signs point to another offensive shootout with the Razorbacks. Auburn does have its most athletic and speedy defense of the Chizik/Roof era this season, but there’s a lot of young players out there matched up against a masterful offensive staff. The Arkansas defensive philosophy is to attack the ball with a lot of flying players, but tackling has suffered at times over the past two seasons, and they do give up big plays.
Auburn is young enough on offense that they likely won’t be able to sustain long ball-control drives against an attacking Wily Robinson defense. They’ll get some big plays, but also some three and outs, and a turnover or two. If Auburn is to have any hope of slowing down the Arkansas offensive machine, it will be up front with the defensive line. Auburn must win that battle decisively to stay in the game.
Prediction: Bobby Petrino has the scheme to minimize disruptive defensive end play. Auburn takes it on the chin in Fayetteville, 43-27..