After some much needed time off, the Razorbacks return to action Saturday night as they host the #8-ranked Auburn Tigers (7-1, 3-1). The 5:00 Fayetteville kickoff will be televised by ESPN2.
Feel better after a week off? We’re sure the Hogs do after that brutal four-game stretch. It is not just the physical toll that was exacted these last four weeks, but mentally this bunch was completely spent. A 104-0 point differential stretch will do that to you.
We suspected the goals might change for these last four games, and from Bret Bielema’s comments last week they are. Younger defensive players in particular should see increased time.
“I’m not saying we’re going with a full scale youth movement”, Bielema said. “But on the same account, I think if we’re through eight games and you’re a player of senior status to junior status and you have not progressed the way we’d like, haven’t had the results that we would’ve liked at certain positions, you can expect someone to get an opportunity.”
Translation: We’re going young, and we’re going to use that in our recruiting material to boot.
Auburn on the other hand is riding high with new head coach Gus Malzahn (7-1 1st Year at Auburn, 16-4 2nd Year Overall). With Gus’ history at Arkansas, coupled with the Bielema-Malzahn-Auburn war of words since both were hired, add it all up and it provides some interesting twists to this matchup. Whether it was the SEC Media Days flare up, the Tim Horton Razorback Injury Report, or the latest Coaches Film scandal, we’re pretty sure these two won’t be exchanging Christmas cards anytime soon.
Malzahn was delt a better hand than Bielema, and give him credit, he has played it well thus far. Not having the best material at quarterback yet, Gus has turned to the run game this season. The Tigers rank 5th nationally at 315.4 Rush YPG, and have rolled up 600+ total yards in each of their last three games.
Starting quarterback Nick Marshall has been injured on and off this year with a knee injury and now a shoulder. Marshall (1,148 PaYds, 6TDs) left last weeks’ game against FAU in the second quarter, and was replaced by Jeremy Johnson. Johnson is a 6-5 true freshman, who will eventually take the starting job. He is probably the better pocket passer of the two and has 6TDs in limited action. Truth be told, based on what Gus is having them do, there is not much difference between the two.
Running back Trey Mason (753 RuYds, 9TDs) appears headed toward his second 1,000+ yard season. He is spelled by junior Cameron Artis-Payne (510 RuYds, 5TDs). A very good one-two punch.
On defense, Auburn is average at best, ranking 75th nationally at 405.5 YPG. Their best player is probably senior defensive end Dee Ford (6 Sacks in 2013), but overall the Tigers are not where they want to be on that side of the ball yet. Pass defense has been the problem thus far.
This week, for the Hogs to have a chance to keep this one close, they’ll have to really focus on stopping the run and win third down. The Tigers win in College Station a few weeks ago tells you they can have success on the road by controlling the game running the football.
The extended forcast calls for clear skies and a game time temperature in the low 50s. Auburn is favored by 9.