Arkansas and Auburn both come into this SEC West battle really in need of a shot of adrenaline to their relatively rough seasons so far. Both teams are now sporting an ugly 1-3 mark in conference play, so this game will be to avoid the basement of the division.
The Razorbacks (4-3 overall) had top-10 aspirations earlier this year but then went through a gauntlet where they not only lost three straight games to Texas A&M, Alabama, and Mississippi State but they also seemed to look a little worse each week. But they got back on track in a convincing 52-35 win at BYU before last week's bye.
Meanwhile, the Auburn soap opera season keeps clipping along despite the Sword of Damocles seemingly dangling over head coach Bryan Harsin each and every week. His Tigers (3-4 overall) limp into this matchup having lost three straight games to LSU (21-17), Georgia (42-10), and Ole Miss (48-34). But give credit to the War Eagles as they showed no quit in that loss to the Rebels. They sunk to a quick 21-0 hole but managed to cut the lead to seven on four different occasions. So THAT kind of fight was good to see. Now, can they manage not to dig themselves a big hole early on in this one?
Arkansas at Auburn
When Arkansas Has the Ball
First off, look for the Razorbacks to go for No. 9. What is that, you ask? They have had a 100-plus-yard rusher for the past eight games, which is a program record. Raheim Sanders is responsible for five of these performances, including his season-best 175-yard effort at BYU last time out. Sanders is averaging a hearty 6.2 yards per carry, which means those big Hogs along the front five are doing their job, and then some. On the other side, Auburn's defense has been a sieve to opposing running backs. The Tigers allowed Ole Miss to run over, around, and through them to the tune of 448 yards with three different Rebels breaking the 100-yard mark.
Nothing boosts KJ Jefferson's confidence like a clean pocket, even though he also is well-known for scrambling for big gains. But even though Auburn has some good athletes on defense, this unit has notched just 13 sacks and 33 tackles for a loss on the year, the latter of which ranks just 11th in the SEC. The Tigers have got to pin their ears back and get some hits on Jefferson to disrupt his game.
When Auburn Has the Ball
There is a little bad and good when it comes to the Tigers and Saturday's matchup. The bad news is that they have a really bad offense and Robby Ashford is the lowest-rated quarterback in the SEC with a 110.9 passer rating. But the good news is that Arkansas has a really crappy defense. Going into this showdown, the Razorbacks are allowing 32.6 points per game, which is good for 115th in the country. In fact, only Vanderbilt gives up more points in the SEC, which is expected. Don't be surprised if Harsin and his staff try and keep the game plan as well as give Ashford some easy reads and quick passes to keep his confidence up and the offense clicking. Keep in mind these Hogs lead the SEC in sacks with 21.
The biggest question is whether running back Tank Bigsby is back for real, or was the 179 yards he stacked up against Ole Miss just a flash in the pan? I'm leaning toward the former because the Tigers' offensive line played its best game against the Rebels and looks to be rounding into form. Expect Auburn offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau to get Bigsby involved in the game plan right off the bat to try and put Arkansas' D on its heels.
Once again, look for this one to be a shootout. As mentioned, the Razorbacks give up a ton of points, even when they win. Conversely, the Plainsmen aren't much better, giving up 28.4 points per game and surrendering 40-plus in three of their five matchups vs. Power 5 teams. These two offenses are capable of piling up the yards and the points. But it's hard to ignore that the Tigers have lost four of their last five and that one victory should have been a loss if not for a running back fumbling into the end zone while trying to score the game-winning touchdown. Going position-by-position, matchup-by-matchup the Hogs are just a better team.
Prediction: Arkansas 47, Auburn 31
Podcast: Complete Week 9 Preview, Predictions, and Picks Against the Spread
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.
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