In an odd twist of affairs, the Arkansas Razorbacks and Auburn Tigers are passing one another during the college football season seemingly going in different directions. While one appears to be rising and the other falling, the twist, the directions are different from years past.
The Hogs (1-1) are trying to shake off three consecutive losing seasons, while a 10-game SEC schedule does not bode well rising above the .500 mark, but there is a new spark in Fayetteville after a 21-14 road win over then-No. 16 Mississippi State. On the other side of the field, Auburn (1-1) limps back to Jordan-Hare Stadium to welcome the Razorbacks reeling from a 27-6 no-show against the No. 4 Georgia Bulldogs.
The Razorbacks shook off a 20-game conference losing streak and 17.5-point doubters in Vegas doing the unimaginable, winning an SEC game and doing so on the road. MSU looked like world-beaters after torching LSU for 632 total yards in a 44-34 season-opening win. Statistically, Arkansas' offense was outplayed by the Bulldogs, but their defense showed heart and determination, picking off three K.J. Costello passes while getting two critical fourth-down stops.
Preparing for the Tigers road trip to Athens, head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Chad Morris left their offense at home. Georgia stymied the War Eagles' efforts to 216 total yards. A Georgia offense that struggled to 387 total yards the week prior against Arkansas found its footing and compiled 442 total yards including 202 on the ground with Auburn between The Hedges.
Arkansas at No. 13 Auburn
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 10 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Auburn -14
When Arkansas Has the Ball
In Arkansas' season opener against Georgia, with a new head coach, new offensive coordinator, new offense, and without the benefit of a full offseason of practices, a slow start was expected. But that sluggish start regressed from 280 to 275 total yards against the Bulldogs. One big reason was a slew of in-game injuries that kept two of the Hogs' biggest playmakers on the sidelines for much of the game. Running back Rakeem Boyd (foot) was limited to eight rushes covering 28 yards and emerging receiver Treylon Burks (knee) had just one reception for 10 yards. Per head coach Sam Pittman, both are expected to play on Saturday. If healthy, expect a healthy dose of those two getting touches.
With Burks watching, quarterback Feleipe Franks was without a dynamic playmaker on the outside. De'Vion Warren's 52-yard touchdown reception aside, Trelon Smith was the leading target, hauling in five for 22 yards. Franks efficiently connecting on 20-of-28 passes for 212 yards with two scores — and, more importantly, was without an interception — but is still taking in the offense. Running a no-huddle/up-tempo scheme, chemistry and rhythm with the receivers is needed. Can the return presence of a run threat in Boyd and a vertical attack in Burks help the offense jell while opening up more lanes for Franks?
Georgia's big guys in the trenches had troubles running the ball against Arkansas — they were held to 121 yards on 42 attempts. Auburn, on the other hand, struggled, giving way to 202 yards on 45 totes with two rushing scores. In his first collegiate start, UGA quarterback Stetson Bennett threw for a solid 240 yards with a touchdown against the Tigers. The War Eagles defense is young but talented. They are learning on the fly and improving. Can offensive coordinator Kendal Briles and the Hogs take advantage of a green defense that was worn down by the Bulldogs?
When Auburn Has the Ball
For a second consecutive game, the Auburn offense was outplayed by the opposition. Both Kentucky and Georgia outgained the Tigers while limiting their scoring to 17.5 points per game. No need to look any further than a lack of a rushing attack for the problem. Auburn netted 91 yards against Kentucky and 39 against UGA. Against the Bulldogs, starting running back Shaun Shivers was out and D.J. Williams was "limited" but ineffective with no carries and a 4-yard loss on one reception. Tank Bigsby led Auburn with 31 yards on the ground off eight carries and 68 receiving yards off seven receptions.
Under the guidance of Morris, quarterback Bo Nix did not show improvement in their second of their season. Nix completed just 21-of-40 attempts for 177 yards with an interception while taking three sacks. Neither receivers Anthony Schwartz nor Seth Williams could break free against UGA. Shivers is lining up as a game-time decision. If Shivers is out again, someone has to step up on Auburn's offense to make consistent plays.
Executing the "bend but don't break" defensive mentality to a T, Arkansas allowed 400 yards of total offense to Mississippi State but kept Costello and Co. out of the red zone and end zone. MSU converted on 2-of-3 chances in the red zone. Being limited on explosive plays, MSU was forced to put together sustained drives. Malzahn and Morris can expect much of the same from the Razorbacks on Saturday. Against Georgia, Auburn had three drives with double-digit plays, and two of those ended in field goals.
With ties back to Arkansas as a high school head coach, as offensive coordinator with the Hogs, and a one-year stint at Arkansas State as head coach, this game means something to Gus Malzahn. After a two-year, four-victory tenure as head coach in Fayetteville, it may mean something to Chad Morris as well. If motivation is a factor, the War Eagles should be up to the task.
Can we believe in the Hogs? The last time Arkansas won an SEC game was in 2017 (Ole Miss). The last time they won more than one conference game was in 2016 (No. 12 Ole Miss, No. 10 Florida, and MSU). Compounding the mixed expectations, the Hogs last won consecutive SEC games in 2015 when they beat Auburn, No. 18 Ole Miss, and No. 9 LSU.
Prediction: Arkansas 24, Auburn 21
Podcast: Week 6 Preview and Predictions
— 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.