(22) Arkansas Razorbacks at (23) Auburn Tigers (LINE TBD) [UPDATE: AUBURN -9]
After two losses in the first three weeks of the season, the no. 23 Auburn Tigers (4-2, 2-1 SEC) let the world know that they’re not going anywhere last weekend when they roared into Starkville and dominated then-no. 14 Mississippi State (38-14). Despite turning the ball over on the first possession, the Tigers dominated from the opening kick, racing out to a 35-0 halftime lead. After a bye this week, Guz Malzahn’s crew returns to the friendly Jordan Hare stadium for their next game, welcoming the Arkansas Razorbacks (4-2, 0-2 SEC) in another crucial SEC tilt (Saturday, Oct. 22 at 3:00 PM Eastern).
The SEC has long been known for brutal, smashmouth games that are decided in the trenches. That makes Auburn’s win over Hail State a good omen going forward. The Tigers dominated the line of scrimmage and bruising sophomore back Kamryn Pettway rumbled his way to 169 yards and three majors on an obscene 39 carries. (Good thing he gets a bye week now.) The rushing attack is now top-ten in the nation, averaging over 262 yards per game.
Don’t be fooled into thinking Auburn is turning into an offensive juggernaut, though. This is still a team that thinks defense first (16 points against per game; 12th in the nation). The unit arguably played its best game of the season last time out, holding the Bulldogs to just 289 yards of total offense and generating three turnovers. The front-seven stuffed the run all day, surrendering a little more than three yards per attempt.
While the College Football Playoff is pretty much out of reach for the two-loss Tigers – who fell to Clemson (19-13) in their opener and Texas A&M in week 3 (29-16) – they can still make a run at the SEC West title by running the slate. That’s epically optimistic thinking, given that road games at no. 12 Ole Miss and no. 1 Alabama lie in wait, but a top-25 ranking and a spot in a good bowl game are certainly attainable goals after the win, which stretched their current streak to three.
Those goals will be all the more in reach if Auburn takes care of business against Arkansas.
The Razorbacks will be in desperation mode when they travel to Auburn. The team is already 0-2 in SEC play thanks to losses to Bama (49-30) and A&M (45-24); they’ll be 0-3 come kick-off unless they pull a massive upset over Ole Miss this Saturday as 7.5-point dogs.
Auburn looks to match-up well with Arkansas. The common thread between the Razorbacks’ two setbacks was an inability to run the ball. The team averaged just 3.0 YPC against the Aggies, and a miserable 2.0 against the Tide. Quarterback Austin Allen put up nearly 800 passing yards and five TDs between the two games, but his three picks against Bama proved costly. Asking him to throw nearly 50 passes per game is not a recipe for success. In Arkansas’ best win of the season – a 41-38 double-OT thriller at TCU – the offense was much more balanced; Allen was only asked to throw 29 times versus 43 rushing attempts.
But pounding the ball against Auburn is apt to yield more minimal yardage. Just ask Mississippi State.
Meanwhile, the Razorbacks’ rushing defense is abysmal. It gave up 366 ground yards to A&M and another 264 to the Tide. Pettway could be in for another huge day.
The line for this game won’t be out until Arkansas plays Ole Miss this Saturday. But expect the Tigers to be at least touchdown favorites at home. With the way Auburn’s defense has been playing and Arkansas’ inability to stop the run, I’d be happy laying a touchdown on the home side. [UPDATE: Auburn is -9.]
Pick: Auburn [even at -9].
Photo credit: Auburn Alumni Association [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.