When the Arkansas Razorbacks (1-2) take the field in Jordan-Hare Stadium against No. 9Auburn (2-1) on Saturday, two embattled SEC West foes look to bounce back from tough losses in Week 3, with both fan bases and players alike still trying to push past. The winner continues forward with a fighting chance to claim a share of a divisional championship while the loser must regroup to stop the downward spiral.
The Auburn faithful may have visceral loathing of Alabama, but LSU has been the repeated proverbial thorn in the Tigers’ paw claiming a sixth win in the last eight meetings over the weekend. Per usual, Auburn’s game against LSU came down to the wire losing 21-19 on a last-second Cole Tracy 42-yard field goal. While Auburn’s defense has been lauded as one of the best in the nation, it was LSU’s defense that got the job done, holding the Tigers to 328 total yards.
For Arkansas, after a 25-point collapse in the second half against Colorado State leading to a loss in Week 2, the Hogs appear to be lost on offense under new head coach Chad Morris. The Razorbacks played host to North Texas in Week 3 losing 44-17, managing just 336 total yards of offense. Without support, and despite the look of the final score, the Hogs' defense played tough holding the Mean Green to 376 yards but could not overcome the six interceptions thrown by Arkansas quarterbacks.
Arkansas at Auburn
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Auburn -30
Three Things to Watch
1. Arkansas’ quarterback play
Razorback Nation is already questioning the coaching decisions of new head coach Chad Morris after back-to-back losses. Cole Kelley got the starting nod against North Texas over Game 2 starter Ty Storey and proceeded to throw four picks while completing just 16 of 35 passes for 185 yards without a touchdown. Storey was held from the game in favor of getting true freshmen signal-callers Connor Noland and John Stephen Jones reps.
Storey will get the starting nod for this game, but he has seen minimal game action so far having completed 17 of 30 passes with three touchdowns and two interceptions. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow threw for 249 yards and a score against Auburn. Can Storey rise to the occasion against an angry defense to do the same?
2. Jarrett Stidham vs. Arkansas’ defense
Against LSU, Stidham, a potential first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft pick according to some, was made to look ordinary. The junior field general was held to 198 passing yards on 16 of 28 attempts with one touchdown and two interceptions. Will this be a bounce-back game for Stidham?
Arkansas actually did a very good job disrupting North Texas quarterback Mason Fine. After back-to-back 400-yard games, the Hogs held Fine to just 281 as he completed 24 of 45 attempts and finished with just one touchdown. While doubters may be quick to dismiss Fine compared to Stidham, the Mean Green QB can spin the ball.
3. Auburn’s rushing attack vs. Arkansas’ rushing attack
The Hogs gained more than 300 yards on the ground against Colorado State but dropped off the map with a 126-yard performance against North Texas. Granted against a much better defense, Auburn’s ground game did not fare much better, finishing with just 130 yards on 38 carries vs. LSU.
To stay in this game, Arkansas must control the time of possession by running the ball. The Razorbacks have the talent in the backfield in Devwah Whaley, T.J. Hammonds, and Maleek Williams, but can the line get a push against the Tigers' front seven? On the other side of the ball, the Hogs have been solid against the run thus far, allowing just 2.8 yards per carry but this is clearly their toughest test yet.
After getting rolled by 27 points at home to an unranked Conference USA team, Arkansas doesn't appear to have much of a chance against Auburn. The hope for Razorback Nation is the lightbulb turns on for the Hogs and the offense starts to gel.
Player to player, Auburn’s roster is more talented and far more established within their schemes under head coach Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. The Tigers will not get caught looking ahead to Southern Miss but could come out lethargic.
A lopsided win for Auburn should be had, but perhaps Razorbacks' head coach Chad Morris’ long-standing friendship with Malzahn could help the final score look better than the competitive play on the field.
Prediction: Auburn 45, Arkansas 17
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.