When the Auburn Tigers (4-2, 1-2) head to Fayetteville to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks (2-4, 1-2) Saturday afternoon, a heavy shift in either SEC West team’s season will be underway after the clock reaches triple zeroes.
Momentum for the game is on Auburn’s side with the Tigers on a two-game winning streak after upending San Jose State 35-21 and notching their first conference win of the season, a 30-27 road win against Kentucky. Auburn arguably had its best all-around game of the season, rushing for 152 yards and passing for 255 with new starter Sean White in the pocket. The Tigers' defense used the bend-but-don’t-break mentality allowing 497 total yards to the Wildcats but stiffened up on third downs only allowing 5-of-13 attempts to be converted and 1-of-2 on fourth down.
The Razorbacks are coming into the game rested after a bye week but had an extra week to think about a 27-14 road loss to then-No. 8 Alabama. The Crimson Tide’s defense was unforgiving holding Arkansas to 220 yards of total offense and just 44 yards on the ground. The Hogs' defense played well against Bama’s line and top running backs but continued to give up big plays in the secondary.
College Football Podcast: Week 8 Preview
Auburn at Arkansas
Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Coverage: SEC Network
Line: Arkansas -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Sean White vs. Arkansas' Pass Defense
No two ways around it, the Razorbacks are not a good defense on passing downs or in pass-coverage situations. The defensive front did a better job getting to Alabama quarterback Jake Coker, coming up with two sacks but are near the bottom of the FBS rankings (tied for 116th) in sacks per game. The Hogs' pass defense is ranked No. 101, allowing 258 yards per game.
The good news for Arkansas fans is Auburn has greatly disappointed throwing the ball in 2015 with the nation’s No. 110-ranked passing offense posting 171 yards a game. Sean White had 108 yards passing against San Jose State and 255 yards against Kentucky but has not thrown a touchdown pass yet this year. The good news for Auburn fans is White has an opportunity to get into a rhythm against the Hogs, potentially laying groundwork for a nice second half to the season.
2. Arkansas' Rush Offense vs. Auburn’s Rush Defense
Believe it or not, statistically, Auburn has the better rushing attack than Arkansas. The Hogs plummeted to No. 57 in the nation after being shut down against Alabama, now posting an average of 177 yards a game. Alex Collins was held to 26 yards on 12 carries with a long of five. Collins is the conference’s fourth-leading rusher with 682 yards, just 32 ahead of Auburn’s Peyton Barber.
Auburn does not stop the run well at all allowing 198 yards a game or the 100th in the nation out of 127 teams. When Arkansas collected its 24-20 road win against Tennessee, Collins and true freshman Rawleigh Williams each topped the 100-yard rushing mark with 154 and 100 respectively. The Tigers have to find a way to take the ball out of the running backs’ hands and put it into starting quarterback Brandon Allen’s hands.
3. Which Team Can Eliminate Mistakes
Mistakes on the football field can be a broad term. For Arkansas, fans have suffered through back-to-back games where bad special teams calls have been made, one against Alabama that helped flip the momentum of the game to the Crimson Tide. Another problem area for Arkansas is red zone offense. The Hogs are one of the worst in the nation at converting chances into points. The Hogs have reached the red zone 25 times this season but have walked away nine times without any points.
When Auburn’s defense is faced with stopping the opposition on third down, they are allowing teams to convert opportunities at a 46 percent rate (111th nationally); Arkansas is just a two spots ahead at No. 109. If Auburn can get Arkansas into third and long passing situations, the Hogs' passing offense can be disrupted especially on quick timing routes. The longer Allen has the football in his hand the more likely something good will happen for Auburn. The Tigers are also break-even on turnover margin with nine gained and nine given up. Giving the ball back to Arkansas when its ball control offense is working is a big mistake, especially if the running game is clicking.
Neither team is bad per say, but then again neither team is great either. Another couple of shared commonalities — both teams have fallen short of preseason expectations and whichever one loses the game is in for a long ride over the second half of the season. The schedule for both teams is challenging and neither can afford a loss with bowl hopes on the line and so many recruits paying close attention.
If strength of schedule means anything, Arkansas has hovered around the top of the heap, hitting No. 1 but currently resting at No. 2. Auburn’s strength of schedule has gone as high as 35 and as low as 55 but is sitting at No. 39.
If Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema still has his team believing, the Hogs should be able to assert their will in the running attack shortening the game. Expect Auburn to pick on Arkansas’ pass defense early and often. If Auburn can get a couple of easy scores against the Hogs' pass defense, Arkansas will be in trouble. Problem is the Tigers are not great on defense either creating what should be an exciting SEC West showdown.
Arkansas’ running game and home field gets the advantage in the end.
Prediction: Arkansas 38, Auburn 28
— 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. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.