Last look: Auburn/Arkansas

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 2, 2013 

Who: BCS No. 11 Auburn (7-1, 3-1 SEC at Arkansas (3-5, 0-4)

When: Today, 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

Quick game notes: Through eight games, no team in the country has improved its year-over-year record more than Auburn. At this point last season, the Tigers were 1-7. They have inverted that mark this year, standing at 7-1 entering Saturday. The next-best turnaround has been by Buffalo, which was also 1-7 at this juncture last season. The Bulls now boast a 6-2 overall record. ... Arkansas is in the middle of a historic stretch of tough competition, as Auburn represents its fifth ranked foe in as many games. That's tied for the longest string of ranked opponents for an SEC school since 1992, alongside two streaks by LSU (2001-02; 2012). ... To say that Auburn receiver Sammie Coates is a "big-play threat" is a bit of an understatement. The Leroy native leads the nation in yards per catch at 25.5, with 10 receptions of 30-plus yards, which is tied for fourth-most in Division I. He also has five catches of 40 or more yards this year (12th nationally), with three spanning more than 50 yards and a pair hitting the 60-yard mark. ... Bret Bielema never won fewer than seven games in his seven years as Wisconsin's head coach from 2006-12. The Razorbacks are on the verge of "setting" a career-low for the Iowa alum. If Arkansas is unable to win at four more games this year (either the last four in the regular season or three in the regular season plus a bowl victory), that undesirable outcome will become a reality for Bielema.

KEY MATCHUPS

Auburn offensive line vs. Arkansas defensive line

Just call this strength-on-strength. In Auburn's starting five, the Tigers have a unit that ranks second in the SEC (and 13th in the country) in fewest sacks allowed (0.88 per game) and has paved the way for eight 100-yard rushers this season. And it can't be forgotten that the offensive line is a key part in Auburn's league-leading rushing onslaught, which averages 315.4 yards a game. They'll square off against an Arkansas defensive line that owns two of the best ends anywhere. Chris Smith is fourth in the SEC in both sacks (six) and tackles for loss (eight). On the other side is Trey Flowers, who is just ahead of his teammate in tackles for loss (eight and a half) as well as forcing two fumbles this season. Nearly every game is won and lost by the players up-front. Saturday's contest won't be any different.

EDGE: Even. It's difficult to ascribe an advantage for one side or the other. If it's based on this year alone, it would go to Auburn. But throw in how the Razorbacks dominated this matchup last year, and it's hard not to give them their due.

Alex Collins/Jonathan Williams vs. Auburn defensive line

The Tigers have held six of their eight opponents this season under 200 yards rushing. The last team to go for more than 200 was LSU, and as defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said Sunday, Arkansas' rushing offense shares quite a few similarities to the Bayou Bengals. In Collins (the SEC's third-leading rusher at 99.6 yards per game) and Williams (a talented sophomore), the Razorbacks boast a pair of great backs who will be around for quite a while. But if Auburn can find a way to slow them down Saturday — and force the Razorbacks to pass, which has been a struggle all year — it would increase its chances at a victory substantially.

SLIGHT EDGE: Auburn. The Tigers have been more consistent stopping the run than the Razorbacks have been at tallying yards. As good as Arkansas has been on the ground, there are still three games this season when they weren't even able to reach 200 yards.

Gus Malzahn vs. Bret Bielema

It started at Media Days. It continued this week. The back-and-forth between these two has been all talk thus far. Finally, they will be able to settle it on the field Saturday. The question is, will one of them decide to maybe, ahem, "rub it in" a little bit if they get out to a big lead? And if so, how much more interesting would the postgame handshake become? This is a fascinating storyline any way you look at it.

BIG EDGE: Auburn. This is easy. Which coach has the 7-1 record and which one is on a five-game losing streak? Case closed.

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