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Preview: Stakes are high for Auburn, Arkansas despite lackluster records

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn running back Peyton Barber scores a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in Lexington, Ky.
Auburn running back Peyton Barber scores a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in Lexington, Ky. AP Photo

Arkansas’ disappointing record isn’t causing Auburn to take Saturday’s game at Fayetteville lightly.

The Tigers head into hostile territory knowing it has to get past a SEC rival desperately clinging to its bowl eligibility hopes at 2-4.

Coach Bret Bielema “expects to have a full house, and rowdy crowd” at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium that will challenge first-year quarterback Sean White.

‘Not a lot of carry over’

Bielema is 12-19 at Arkansas since taking over the program in 2013, and has lost both games to Auburn. Last year, the Tigers beat Arkansas in the season-opener at Jordan-Hare Stadium 45-21.

While there are players back on both sides, Bielema sees two very different squads preparing to face each other.

“It’s kind of like a clean match of two new different coaches, or two new programs,” Bielema said.

Auburn is throwing its support behind first-year quarterback Sean White with an offense that looks different than it did a year ago under Nick Marshall, and is running a new defensive scheme under Will Muschamp.

Bielema has made changes to the Razorbacks’ offense integrating no-huddle tempo to their pro-style offense, and the defense continues to evolve under coordinator Robb Smith.

Smith’s first game with the school was last year’s loss to Auburn.

“Last year, obviously the game was an early game, so we didn’t know a lot about our personnel,” Bielema said. “We played so much better at the end of the year than we did the beginning of the year.”

Huddle up

Arkansas’ lack of points this season isn’t due to a lack of total offense. The Razorbacks are averaging 433 yards per game, fifth in the SEC, but only averaging 23.8 points per game, 11th in the SEC.

The Razorbacks offense features one of the league’s best passers in Brandon Allen, and top running backs in Alex Collins.

Allen has 1,536 yards in six games with 10 touchdowns to only four interceptions. Collins has 682 yards with six touchdowns, just ahead of Peyton Barber on the SEC leaders list.

Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp called Collins a “great back” while praising the experienced Allen as a quarterback who can “make all the throws.”

The new wrinkle this year for Arkansas is the way the offense varies its tempo from going out of a traditional huddle then suddenly pushing the pace. Muschamp said his defense needs to be alert at all times, ready to counter the way the Razorbacks call the game.

“When you're playing a no-huddle team, you're on the ball, whether it's fast or it's look back or whatever it is, but as long as they're on the ball, you're on the ball,” Muschamp said. “As opposed to a team that's huddling, huddling and huddling and they're sitting on the ball and you've got to be ready to go play. That's what's different. It's just a different sense of urgency.”

The other challenge for Auburn is to generate a pass-rush against one of the biggest offensive lines in all of college football.

DeVonte Lambert’s sack last week was the first by a Tigers’ lineman since week one, and Cassanova McKinzy’s move up front continues to pay dividends.

Secondary concern

Auburn has its fair share of defensive weaknesses this year, but so does Arkansas. The Razorbacks are only one of two teams with fewer sacks in the SEC than Auburn, and they have the worst pass defense in the conference.

Arkansas is giving up 258 yards a game through the air, and allowing opposing quarterbacks to compete an astonishing 68 percent of their passes.

Auburn came out with an aggressive offense game plan against Kentucky, opening up the playbook for Sean White, and the coaching staff might rely on the same philosophy this week.

White proved he can throw down field with accuracy, and showed great chemistry with Ricardo Louis.

Saturday’s game could turn into a shoot out with the outcome falling on White’s shoulders.

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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