First take: A quick look at Arkansas

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 27, 2013 

Who: No. 8 Auburn (7-1, 3-1 SEC; beat Florida Atlantic 45-10 on Saturday) at Arkansas (3-5, 0-4; lost to Alabama 52-0 on Oct. 19 and had open date on Saturday)

When: Saturday, 6 p.m. ET

Where: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (72,000) | Fayetteville, Ark.

TV: ESPN2

Radio: Auburn IMG Sports Network (WVRK-102.9 FM in Columbus; WGZZ-94.3 FM in Auburn/Opelika)

All-time series: Auburn leads 11-10-1

When last they met: Though there were other games with a larger margin of victory for the opponent, Auburn’s 24-7 loss to Arkansas may have been its worst defeat in 2012. How so? The Razorbacks entered the contest dead-last in the nation in total defense, allowing 510.2 yards per game. They had lost by a combined score of 110-10 in their first two SEC games, against Alabama and Texas A&M, respectively. And Arkansas did not get a sack or force a turnover in either of those two losses. (This isn’t even mentioning the fact Arkansas had tumbled from a preseason No. 8 ranking to four straight losses after winning its opener.) After those defeats to the Crimson Tide and Aggies, the Razorbacks followed it up with another one, this one at home versus Rutgers the week before they arrived in Auburn. So of course, Arkansas’ defense came into Jordan-Hare Stadium and looked like world-beaters, coming up with five takeaways and eight sacks. The Tigers were so pitiful then-coach Gene Chizik made it a point to issue an apology to everyone invested in the program in his postgame presser. “The bottom line is,” Chizik said, “the Auburn fans and the Auburn family did not deserve this today, and I apologize to anybody who came to the game to watch it.” Need I say more?

Quick facts on Arkansas: Bret Bielema is 3-5 in his first year as Arkansas' head coach entering this week's contest. The Razorbacks' five defeats have come in the last five games, marking the longest losing streak of Bielema's coaching career. Prior taking over at Arkansas, Bielema led Wisconsin from 2006-12, posting a 68-24 (.739) overall record. His 40 victories from 2009-12 tied for the most in any four-year stretch in school history. ... Arkansas is coming off a bye week. The last two times the Razorbacks have taken the field, though, it has been ugly, as they lost to South Carolina (52-7) and Alabama (52-0) by a combined score of 104-7. The 52-0 blanking by the Crimson Tide was the second straight year the Razorbacks lost by that score to the nation's top-ranked team. ... To say Arkansas has struggled to score would be an understatement. The Razorbacks rank last in the SEC in scoring offense at 20.4 points per game, right on the heels of 13th-place Kentucky (20.6). In eight games this season, the Razorbacks have broke the 30-point barrier just three times; of those, two came against Louisiana-Lafayette and Samford, respectively. Arkansas has most notably struggled when taking to the air, as its 146.6 passing yards per game is worst in the conference and well-behind Tennessee, which is next-to-last at 169.9 passing yards a contest. ... While the Razorbacks' offense has been putrid, the defense hasn't fared much better, ranking 12th in the conference in scoring defense by allowing an average of 30.6 points per game.

Which Tiger is primed for a big performance: At this point, it would be ignorant of me not to pick an Auburn running back. After he was given light work against Florida Atlantic (10 carries, 60 yards, one touchdown), Tre Mason should be ready to handle a vast portion of the Tigers' rushing attempts this Saturday. That's been the case in the Tigers' last three SEC games. I mentioned this stat in my beat column last Thursday, but it bears repeating: in Auburn's past three conference contests (against LSU, Ole Miss and Texas A&M), Mason has been the Tigers' workhorse, totaling 74 carries in those games, compared to 26 combined for fellow junior running backs Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant. As the well-worn saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Expect Auburn to take that approach with Mason this Saturday.

Which Razorback could give Auburn fits: Yes, the Razorbacks' offense as a whole has wallowed in mediocrity in 2013. None of the blame can be placed on Alex Collins, though. The true freshman running back is averaging 99.6 yards per game, which is third-best in the SEC. Gaining 5.7 yards per carry, the Miami native has scored four touchdowns this season and already has four 100-yard games just eight contests into his college career. Despite his youth, Collins will be the best running back Auburn has faced since LSU's Jeremy Hill ripped off 184 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries on Sept. 21. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), that game was also Auburn's only loss this season.

Extra point: Bielema ended his tenure at Wisconsin by taking the Badgers to three straight Rose Bowls, though they lost all three games. The last Big Ten coach to pull off that feat was the legendary Woody Hayes of Ohio State, who led the Buckeyes to four consecutive Rose Bowl appearances from 1973-76. The Buckeyes came away victorious just once during that span.

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