AUBURN, Ala. In a statement that would probably make Bret Bielema faint, Ellis Johnson said the Arkansas offense isnt all that different from spread attacks at least schematically.
Johnson, Auburns defensive coordinator, said film study bore it out. Yes, the Razorbacks offense is predicated on a physical running game. But Arkansas use of overloaded, unbalanced formations is something Auburn has already seen multiple times this season, including last week against Florida Atlantic.
Whether you're in the zone-read or whether you're in the I or the one-back, any time you've got multiple tight ends and other things they (can) use it to create unbalanced formations and fronts, Johnson said. I don't think the preparation will be that much different. We've just got to get adjusted to the formations. You've got to be really gap sound because they do a great job.
Johnsons comparison inserts an ironic twist into Saturdays matchup. The coordinators comments placed Arkansas offense alongside the hurry-up, no-huddle systems Bielema railed against at SEC Media Days in July, citing what he believed was a safety issue for defensive players. He went on to declare his teams style of play normal American football. While that characterization is debatable, how well they operate it isnt.
To combat this, Johnson said he would make some subtle adjustments to his 4-2-5 base formation.
A lot of things you see against the spread is DBs running all over the place, he said. Against a team like this, linebackers playing the gaps and some of those other safeties dropping down (are) really going to have to be perfectly fit, because their running backs, once they find a crease, they can really run.
No Razorback does that better than Alex Collins. The true freshman tailback is the SECs third-leading rusher at 99.6 yards per contest, and already has four 100-plus yard efforts this season. Johnson said it would be a mistake to forget sophomore Jonathan Williams who matches Collins with four touchdowns and averages slightly more per carry (6.1 to 5.7) when discussing Arkansas backfield.
They have two really good running backs, he said. Theyve struggled at times. Theyve been beat up and theyve struggled at times to get those guys into the open field. Thats my biggest concern: just making sure were on target with all our run fits and (we) dont let those guys get out of the box.
On the flip side, thats what the Tigers will try to do with their own vaunted running game. Auburn leads the conference by a wide margin in rushing yards per contest (315.4) and have rushed for more than 300 yards in three consecutive outings. To push that streak to four, the Tigers will have to contain arguably the Razorbacks top unit, the defensive line. And its a group Auburn knows all too well after last season.
Arkansas line couldnt be stopped, as it collected eight sacks and helped force five turnovers in a 24-7 victory.
They're about two-deep, and it very well may be the very best defensive front across the board we've seen, Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. Their defensive ends are great pass-rushers, they've both got a lot of sacks. We're familiar with some of those guys. Some are from the state of Alabama, some of them we've recruited in the past. Those guys are really good run-stoppers, too, in the middle.
C.J. Uzomah isnt worried, though. The junior tight end conceded that Arkansas fields a formidable front four.
Thats nothing new for Uzomah, who noted he has to go toe-to-toe with some talented defensive linemen every day in practice, anyway.
Having to block Dee Fordand Carl Lawson, that gives us confidence going into game like this, he said. We know weve blocked D-ends better than this. We just have to go out there and execute.
Aside from the fact the Razorbacks have won four of the past five games in the series, there was another factor that concerned Gus Malzahn. Arkansas, just as Florida Atlantic last Saturday, had an open date before facing Auburn, giving the Razorbacks an extra week of preparation.
Malzahn said Auburns bye week did wonders for his team and believes a similar breakthrough may be in the offing for the Razorbacks. And it could come as soon as this weekend.
I know our week off a few weeks back was real pivotal for us, especially being a first-year coach here in a program, he said. We know we're going to have our hands full. We know we're going to get their best effort.