From the Eagle’s Nest
Auburn kicks off the second half of its season this weekend in a game that will feature two teams trying to turn a pivotal corner in the SEC West. A win for either one sets up a much more optimistic outlook on the second half of the season, while a loss serves as a huge setback.
Arkansas’ normally run-happy offense has been replaced to a degree this season by a potent air attack led by Austin Allen. Allen enters Saturday with 1,861 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. To give you some perspective, Sean White enters Saturday with 1,187 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. This Arkansas team loves to move the ball through the air, and that is mostly due to its diminished output at the running-back position and having no equivalent replacement for former halfback Alex Collins.
Austin Allen has enjoyed a nice, spacious pocket to throw out of for most of the year thanks to Arkansas’ very large and talented offensive line. The key to Auburn disrupting the rhythm of their offense is going to be outstanding defensive line play. Kevin Steele is really going to have to focus on mixing up his looks and keeping Arkansas’ offensive front off balance to maintain the effectiveness of our pass rush. I like our chances tremendously if Auburn’s front four on defense can put together a great performance and limit Allen’s time to make decisions in the pocket.
I like our chances to limit the Razorbacks’ offensive production. Of course, it cannot be ignored that the Hogs hung 30 on Alabama’s defense, but I think they’ll fare a little worse on the road at night in Jordan-Hare. Arkansas is leaning heavily on Austin Allen’s throwing ability to win its games. If Auburn’s defensive line can bring some significant pressure early, I like our chances to keep Allen disrupted and out of rhythm for much of the evening.
Offensively I think Auburn has to play its best game of the year. Arkansas is not a team that will blow you away with its play-making ability, but they do not make many mistakes. They significantly limit the amount of opportunities they give opposing offenses. Auburn has to be willing to throw the ball early and often and not get caught leaning too heavily on running the football early on, or the Tigers might find themselves playing from behind for most of the game.
The middle of the field is almost a no-fly zone for this Auburn offense. It’s gotten better over the past few weeks, but for the most part, it is an untapped resource for passing yards. Ultimatum time has arrived for these coaches. For this Auburn team to take the next step, the passing offense has to evolve and be relied upon for more production. This offense won’t survive (and hasn’t so far) as a ‘run early, run late, run often offense’ like it did in 2013. It’s not 2013. And this group of wide receivers (although young) is too talented to be underutilized.
With legitimate deep threat guys like Nate Craig-Myers and Eli Stove or Marcus Davis, I’d like the offense take advantage of more intermediate routes. This has improved to a degree with guys like Tony Stephens and Kyle Davis stepping up for more catches on 1st down plays, but it has to continue to evolve and grow. It’s midway through the season and I’d like to see the coaches trust these players a little more and open up the playbook some. If they can’t put their talent in positions to succeed, then what are we paying them to do?
This is another pivotal, crossroads type game for Auburn. They passed the Mississippi State test with flying colors. Now it is time for them to deliver at home as a 10-point favorite over an SEC West opponent. This game is as big as any other for Gus Malzahn—without a doubt, it is a must-win. A victory this weekend really puts a lot of concerns and fears to rest for the remainder of the season and allows this coaching staff some wiggle room. A loss makes Auburn’s second half schedule look extremely daunting and opportunities for additional victories scarce.