Shake off that bye-week rust and buckle up; Auburn football is back and that means it is time to welcome the Arkansas Razorbacks to Jordan-Hare. October has arrived with a curious and reserved sense of optimism surrounding the Auburn Tigers.
After showing very little signs of life in the first 3 games of the season, the Tigers finally previewed the potential they possess by nearly knocking off the visiting #2 ranked LSU Tigers. No, a close loss to LSU isn’t exactly what many would have considered Auburn’s crown jewel of September to be during the pre-season, but then again not much has gone according to “plan” thus far in 2012.
Hopefully Auburn took advantage of the early bye-week to shore up some weaknesses and learn from the team’s early mistakes. It won’t take long to determine if they handled their time “off” wisely or not as they begin the remainder of the 2012 season against the Razorbacks tomorrow.
Arkansas comes into this game desperate for anything resembling a positive outcome. A team that was once heralded as a serious challenger to LSU and Alabama; is now in a full-on nose dive to irrelevance after suffering blowout losses to Alabama and Texas A&M that were preceded by upset losses at the hands of Louisiana-Monroe and Rutgers. Don’t let those results fool you into thinking Auburn has this game in the bag. The Razorbacks pose a significant threat throwing the football to any team Auburn notwithstanding.
The zone-happy defense that the Tigers run has the potential to be exploited at will by Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson. It will be interesting to see how Brian Van Gorder has prepared for the Arkansas air-attack. Defensive line play will be extremely important for Auburn’s defense if it is to have any success. Tyler Wilson has shown that he can be rattled by pressure which leads to him coughing passes up to the other team. If, however, the hogs are able to score on some quick-strikes early it may be enough to keep the game permanently out of reach.
Auburn’s offense enters its matchup with Arkansas having scored only 6 touchdowns on offense all season, 4 of which came against ULM. You must be thinking, “Surely that isn’t as bad as 2008 right?” Wrong. It is actually 1 less than Auburn’s total through the first 4 games of 2008(7). Growing pains were certainly expected, but the production (or lack thereof) so far has been frustrating to say the least. One big disappointment thus far is the lack of significant involvement from 3 of Auburn’s biggest offensive weapons: Emory Blake, Philip Lutzenkirchen, and Jay Prosch. Blake and Lutzenkirchen are actually Auburn’s two leading receivers, but they have only 1 touchdown and twenty-four receptions between them.
That is unacceptable. Scott Loeffler has got to improve upon involving his play-makers on offense. He has entirely too much talent to work with to not have the offense moving in a better direction. Another glaring “absence” on the Tiger offense has been fullback Jay Prosch. He has played his fair share of minutes, sure, but he has not yet been fully utilized to completely open up the running game. In fact, the entire concept of establishing a power-running/play-action offense has been seemingly lost by the Tiger offense. Auburn has yet to truly challenge an opponent to stop them from doing this.
Piling blame on Frazier is the easy route to go and partially fair, but as a whole the offense must find a way to perform at a higher level. His throwing struggles have been apparent, but without a running game to properly open up his opportunities how can he be expected to perform at a certain level? I want to see a more focused and better prepared Auburn offense from Scot Loeffler starting tomorrow against Arkansas, and if I didn’t see McCalebb run a speed sweep for a while I’d be totally fine with that.
Auburn will have every reason to go into this game somewhat relaxed because of all the documented trouble in the Arkansas football program and if they do indeed make that mistake they will pay for it dearly. The Razorbacks are not a charity case. Tyler Wilson will gladly string together consecutive completions all afternoon if we allow him to. Winning the time of possession battle will be huge.
The Arkansas football team in its current state is extremely volatile. They’ve got a theatric, over the top, media giant (ESPN) squeezing every last ounce of their recent setbacks onto the center stage of every weekly edition of ‘College Gameday.’ They have gone from National Title contenders to an accessory to the bizarre tale of their interim Head Coach John L. Smith’s growing list of transgressions. They are at their tipping point right now. One big blow will send them over the edge, but if in their struggle to stay upright they begin to gain position they will become increasingly more difficult to put away. They are searching for anything because right now they have nothing. Hand them an excuse to lay down and they’ll gladly accept it, but don’t hand them cause for hope and rededication because they’ll accept that just as willingly.
This is such a dangerous game for Auburn on so many levels. In order for Auburn to come away victorious I believe they have to get on top of Arkansas and stay on top. I don’t like the thought of Auburn’s defense being repeatedly called upon if our offense can’t find a steady and effective pace at which to operate. This game is going to give a good indication of how effective this coaching staff can be at correcting mistakes.
Those great folks at ESPN already have their story written for the Saturday October 13th installment of ‘College Gameday’ program about that one struggling SEC team that is on the brink of total meltdown. Question is: Are the Auburn Tigers going to take themselves out of the running for that story?