By Jay Coulter
Auburn’s objective Saturday is simple in theory. They have to stop the two-headed monster that will line up in the backfield for Arkansas. How the Tigers execute will determine who wins.
After spending the first six games of the season defending against the spread offense, this week it’s all about stopping Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. It’s a job that’s hard enough when you have everyone healthy. When four of your top defensive players are on the bench hurt, things become down right scary.
Who says recruiting doesn’t count for much? The Tiger defense has been hammered with injuries. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp just goes to the bench and brings out more. The depth of talent on this team is unbelievable. The ability of the coaches to get them ready is astounding.
Defensive end Quentin Groves goes down in the Florida game – no problem. Auburn rolls out sophomore Antonio Coleman who’s a near clone of Groves. Linebackers Tray Blackmon and Merrill Johnson fall to injury – again, no problem. You just bring in junior Chris Evans and redshirt freshman Craig Stevens. The drop in talent level is hardly noticeable.
Saturday does bring a different challenge. We’ll learn quickly how these guys can stop the run. It will be speed against speed in Fayetteville. Auburn hasn’t seen a group of backs this fast all year. Likewise, Arkansas hasn’t faced a defense with the speed of the Tigers. Something has to give. Let’s hope it’s the Razorbacks.
Injury Update: Tommy Tuberville didn’t have good news during Thursday’s practice. It looks like Groves, Blackmon, Johnson and safety Aairon Savage are all out for Arkansas. The only one who has a slight chance of seeing action is Blackmon, who Tuberville describes as being about 80 percent.
Offensively, center Jason Bosley took a few snaps Thursday, but it’s still unlikely he’ll play. Ryan Pugh will move to center from left tackle and King Dunlap will join the first team in Pugh’s old spot.
Runningback Mario Fannin has been practicing in the slot formation this week. Look for him to line up there more than once Saturday night. You may remember that Al Borges used Ronnie Brown in the slot quite a bit during the 2004 campaign. With Brad Lester back, coaches are looking for ways to keep Fannin in the game.
If you are keeping score, Auburn has now played 26 freshmen this season – 15 true freshmen and 11 red-shirt freshmen. One of those is linebacker Josh Bynes who played for the first time last week against Vandy and will make the trip west this weekend.
Another freshman who will be traveling to Arkansas is wide receiver Quindarius Carr. The Huntsville native is going as insurance and Tuberville says he’s not likely to play.
“He’ll travel with us,” Tuberville said, “but unless we have more injuries in certain situations, we won’t play him.”
While tight-end Cole Bennett has been unusually quiet this year, he is still getting recognition. Bennett was named a semifinalist for the 2007 Draddy Trophy on Thursday.
The award, which is sponsored by HealthSouth, recognizes an individual as the absolute best in the country for his combined athletic success, football performance and exemplary community leadership.
Semifinalists must be a senior or graduate student in their final year of eligibility, have at least a 3.2 GPA, have outstanding football ability as a first-team player, and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship.
A 2006 magna cum laude graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Bennett will earn his master’s degree in Information Systems this December. Bennett returned to the lineup this season after missing the last 10 games of the 2006 season due to an ankle injury.
Here’s a look at this weekend’s television schedule. All times are Central.
Georgia Tech at Miami – 11:00 a.m. – ESPN
Illinois at Iowa – 11:00 a.m. – ESPN 2
Central Florida at South Florida – 11:00 a.m. – ESPN U.
Alabama at Ole Miss – 11:30 a.m. – Lincoln Financial Sports
Texas at Iowa State – 11:30 a.m. – Fox Sports Network
LSU at Kentucky – 2:30 p.m. – CBS
Boston College at Notre Dame – 2:30 p.m. – NBC
South Carolina at North Carolina – 2:30 p.m. – ABC
Georgia at Vanderbilt – 5:00 p.m. – ESPN 2
Missouri at Oklahoma – 5:30 p.m. – Fox Sports Network
Auburn at Arkansas – 6:45 p.m. – ESPN
If you are traveling to Fayetteville, please drive carefully. It’s a long trip for most anyone in the Southeast regardless of where you live.
We’ll have the open thread up on Saturday. As you are watching games through the day and feel like you want to share your opinion, drop in and tell us what you think. I’d also like to get your take on the Auburn contest. I hope all of you have a great weekend. War Eagle!