AU, Arkansas trying to get going
AUBURN – What happens when a quite stoppable offense meets a very movable defense?
No. 20 Auburn and Arkansas will find out when they meet Saturday. The Tigers (4-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) have been so unproductive on offense they fired first-year offensive coordinator Tony Franklin in midweek with half the season left to play.
The Razorbacks (2-3, 0-2) have been pushed around to the tune of 139 points over the last three games, all blowout losses to ranked teams.
Both opposing units have reason for a little extra confidence going into this game: Each other.
The Tigers rank no better than 103rd nationally in passing, scoring and total offense. The Razorbacks’ defensive standing is no better: 112th in scoring, 107th against the run and 87th in total yards allowed.
The only stat that might give Auburn pause is that Arkansas has fared much better in defending the Tigers’ Achilles heel: The pass. But neither Auburn quarterback, Kodi Burns or Chris Todd, has been able to get much of a passing game going. Either could start, and coach Tommy Tuberville said he won’t scrap the spread offense.
“They’re still trying to learn their system just like we are,” Arkansas defensive lineman Adrian Davis said. “They’re trying to make improvements too. But you never know, they can be rolling one weekend and not be rolling the next, so we’ve just got to come out here and worry about our gameplan.”
After watching Florida rush for 278 yards in a 38-7 win over Arkansas last weekend, the Tigers could be more like the old Auburn and turn to tailbacks Ben Tate, Mario Fannin and Brad Lester, if he’s healthy. Burns, too, is a running threat.
Staying on the ground had success early in last week’s 14-13 loss at Vanderbilt but the Tigers didn’t stick with it and had just 82 yards over the final three quarters. Auburn has rebounded well in the past, going 9-1 after a loss over the past five seasons.
Spread or no spread, Auburn players just want to have some offensive success.
“I just want to do whatever works,” center Ryan Pugh said. “No one likes to go out there and lose. Whatever gives us the best chance to win as a player. It doesn’t really matter if we throw it every down or run it every down.”
The Tigers have done two things Arkansas hasn’t: Stop opposing offenses and keep games close. The Razorbacks’ three losses have been by a combined 139-31. Auburn’s two losses have been by a total of six points.
First-year Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino would like to see his team still hanging around in the fourth quarter for a change.
“Every game they’ve played has been real close, so they could easily be 4-0, they could easily be 0-4,” said Petrino, a former Auburn offensive coordinator. “Hopefully we’re right there in the fourth quarter and it’s a real close game. But it’s going to be a loud — probably the loudest game that we’ve played this year on the road. I think that stadium’s a lot louder than Texas.”
Tuberville and some of his assistants do have some familiarity with Petrino’s offense from his stint at Auburn in 2002.
The Tigers haven’t had many problems stopping opponents. They are tied for second in the country in scoring defense, giving up 11.2 points per game.
“They’ll be well prepared for anything that you do on defense,” Tuberville said. “I know that we have a good defensive football team, but they will have a plan for it and so we’ve got to be ready to do a good job in a lot of different areas.”
The visiting team has won the past three games in this series and five of the last six.