Upon Further Review: On to LSU
Bo Nix threw 3 touchdown passes and ran for another in the Tigers 51-10 beat down of Arkansas (photo: Michael Woods/AP)
The score was almost exactly what many had hoped and expected. When the final whistle blew, No. 11 Auburn had steamrolled Arkansas to the tune of 51–10. Following a 54–46 overtime loss to Arkansas back in 2015, Gus Malzahn has been ruthless on the ‘Hogs ever since. Malzahn has gone “scorched earth” on Arkansas, scoring at least 50 points in three of the four subsequent contests while Auburn’s defense has stifled the ‘Hogs, allowing just 36 total points in the last four meetings.
On paper, this win looks like every other 50-plus point victory against Malzahn’s home state team. Yet, that only seems the case to the most casual eyes. In truth, this win was much more similar to last season’s 34–3 victory than any of the other thumpings.
Last season, Jarrett Stidham was a paltry 15/22 for 134 yards and no touchdowns, though he did run for one score. Boobee Whitlow had 13 carries for 49 yards and a pair of scores. Auburn’s offense continued to struggle down the stretch, the 34 points being the most they scored in SEC play for the season. The Tigers finished 3–5 in the SEC.
Part of those struggles was Auburn’s porous offensive line and its inability to run the ball. The ability or inability to run effectively against Arkansas has been a litmus test for Malzahn’s offenses the last few years, which makes Saturday’s 51–10 win more like last season’s win than previous years. In 2016 and 2017, Kam Pettway averaged 140 rushing yards in those two contests. While injuries down the stretch derailed a promising 2016, 2017 was regarded as the second best year under Malzahn.
Bo Nix had a career day Saturday, throwing for three touchdowns. All three were really good throws, but Nix has really struggled throwing the intermediate routes and continued to do so this past weekend. Gus Malzahn lives on the short passing game, and Nix took advantage of some juicy matchups with a couple of long throws, but his final passing numbers show an inability to sustain drives with the intermediate passing game.
The Tigers were able to rush the football, piling up nearly 300 yards, but much of that was in the second half when the ‘Hogs couldn’t stop anything. Auburn led 17–3 at the break mainly because it couldn’t get much of anything going offensively. Eventually, the Tigers got going and ran the score up, but Arkansas was effective at slowing Auburn down, disclosing flaws in the Auburn offense despite the comfortable win.
Up next is a Top-Ten matchup in a place Auburn hasn’t won in 20 years. The last two games between Auburn and LSU have been almost mystifying as Auburn blew leads in both games, one of 20 points in 2017, and allowing a last-second field goal last season. Joe Burrow had a really solid game against the Tigers, throwing for almost 250 yards and a touchdown but was greatly helped by several defensive pass interference calls.
LSU has been the talk of college football with many people believing it just may be the best team in the land The purple Tigers field another typically stingy defense along with a new and explosive passing attack. Through six games Burrow has set a new LSU record for touchdown passes. Auburn’s secondary is going to be greatly tested and will likely determine the outcome of this game. If Auburn’s defense can force takeaways, it will lesson the pressure on freshman Bo Nix to force things. But, Auburn has to run the ball effectively, and who will the bell cow be? That’s the true question.
Malzahn kicked the tires on several new names against Arkansas, including a much anticipated tandem of D.J. Williams and Harold Joiner. The two didn’t receive enough carries to show fans their abilities, but they have all the pieces to complement each other and be a terrific set of playmakers. Williams can be an every down back if he can improve his pass protection while Harold Joiner, with his size, looks like a game breaker. What fans know is that even with Whitlow, Auburn’s run game hasn’t been very good. Could it be the players getting the touches or just the offensive line? We will find out Saturday.