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AUsome Pig BBQ, to go

October 8, 2009
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I am not sure why anyone would take the time to read this considering Tommy Tuberville has already called the game a 3 touchdown Auburn win. Oh well, I’ll blog on for my health (and my 9 fans!).

I’ve probably said this every week and regardless of the outcome Saturday morning in Wal-Mart town, I’ll probably say it again, like 6 more times: Auburn cannot overlook this game.

Yes, we went on the road last week and beat a good defensive team in Tennessee. True, we were a probably better than the score suggested, but not so good we can play like the 4th quarter again and hope to win. This week, we’ll be tested in a bizarro world sort of way, facing an offense very much like our own in that they spray the ball all over the field with enough accuracy to merit national attention. To say Ryan Mallett has a cannon for an arm is an oft repeated understatement. The kid can play football and make your defense look silly.

Where Arkansas hasn’t stood out in a good way is, (1) on defense and, (2) with the running game. Both of these facts present Auburn with an enticing banquet of BBQ options – chopped, sliced and straight up. Do we run like crazy until an already vulnerable Arkansas pass defense pushes forward into the box or bomb away and run late? On defense, do we pin our ears back with no regard for the run early to shake Mallett, or just drop everyone back into coverage looking for picks?

Joe didn’t buy into the Arkansas hype pre-season, and with the exception of last week’s throttling of Texas A&M, I’m not too far off my guess they would be 1-3 when the Tigers came prowling. However, it is still Arkansas and if not for the perfect timed intervention of Acid, I’d let perception rule reality on this one.

Auburn’s Offense deserves every bit of praise, recognition and press it is gathering. We are scary good on offense; not just in coaching, but (at times) execution.  Arkansas’s defense is ranked 78th in interceptions and 95th in sacks. Couple that alongside Auburn’s lack of interceptions thrown and sacks allowed and it is hard not to buy into the optimism surrounding an expected shootout. This is a game Coach Gus Malzahn wants to win, and I would guess, make a bit of a statement too. However, an interesting factoid is Arkansas being ranked 11th in tackles for loss. Think about that with how many times Auburn’s offense exchanges the ball deep in the backfield?

That last fact and question combo make me think Auburn is going to come out throwing the ball to start and as Arkansas backs some pressure off the line of scrimmage, use the running game more and more as the game progresses. As unscientific and common-sense as it may seem, Coach Malzahn will probably just attack Arkansas at their weakest point early and often versus establishing the run as we’ve seen so prominently thus far.

The Auburn Defense was a few early dropped passes from having a dogfight in Knoxville. UT was finding open receivers across the middle, they just couldn’t catch the ball. All this from a straight away, stand in the pocket, high percentage type passer. Mallett is slightly more mobile, but has the arm to throw strongly back across the field and the accuracy to place the ball at will. The secondary will earn their scholarships on Saturday. Arkansas has thrived on big plays on offense, a fact that Alabama recognized and shut down. Auburn has struggled to get off the field at times and has a penchant for surrendering big plays when I have a mouthful of concessions and most likely to choke. Both Auburn and Arkansas have been good at taking care of the football, but with the ‘Hawgs reliance on big plays, it could become prime poaching for the Tigers. And then there is the issue of zero depth at linebacker coupled with more question marks for the guys who are there.

I haven’t seen an Arkansas rushing attack to speak of. Statistically, they have two backs with over 5 yards per carry averages, but on limited touches and total yardage. Again, Auburn will need to watch the 3rd down draw and delay plays out of the backfield in order to give the Tiger offense every available opportunity to attack. The truth is, Arkansas lives and dies by the 350+ yard passing game. Fortunately, Auburn has some talent to protect against the deep stuff, but the linebackers have been underwhelming in guarding the flats and middle of the field. Petrino and Mallett will probably exploit this. Oh joy.

Special teams belongs to Arkansas both statistically and visually. They have a top 10 team in kick returns, something Auburn hopes to do often (kickoffs) and stop more often (returns). I still make my open plea for Auburn to put 11 men on the line come Razorback punt time and forget the fair catch and fumble routine.

Overall, the coaching matchups should be as much fun to watch again this week as the Malzahn-Kiffin subplot was last week. Coach Gene Chizik and Bobby Petrino worked together and know each other from Auburn, circa 2002. Coach Malzahn and Rocker have Arkansas coaching history. There are state tie-ins at the player level on both squads also. Maybe not bad blood, but certainly personal history and involvement will play a role.

I’m hoping for a shootout that is heavily armed and weighted to the Orange and Blue gunslingers. Wishing for a monkey stomp figures in there somewhere too. Auburn has all the numbers on its side, Arkansas has home field advantage on its side. Just how much Auburn allows last week’s celebration and the new Top 20 ranking to cloud their performance remains to be seen. Arkansas needs this one a little bit more, but I am going to pick Auburn on top in the end. War Eagle, and safe travels!

Auburn 48, Arkansas 42.

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