#11 Auburn (5-1) at Arkansas (2-4)
The Auburn Tigers visit Fayetteville to challenge the Arkansas Razorbacks Saturday morning at 11 am on the SEC Network. Auburn comes in as a big favorite at -19.5, per ESPN. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, Auburn and the Gus Bus has a 93.4% chance to come out victorious, keeping Arkansas still winless in the SEC, and keeping the players and fans hungry for another week. At this point, the fans are starving.
Halfway through the season now it is like night and day looking at Saturday’s matchup at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The Auburn Tigers come in ranked #11 while the Arkansas Razorbacks are looking to put together enough to get bowl eligible for the first time since 2016. Can the Chad Morris led Razorbacks find a way to keep the Tigers at bay?
Freshman QB Bo Nix comes to Fayetteville for his 7th start of his early career.
After a bye week, recovering from their loss in the Swamp against the Gators, Nix looks to continue the possibility for a SEC West title. This time he will face John Chavis’ struggling defense. Nix has been the captain for Gus Malzhan’s offense throughout the first half of the season. Bo Nix, who is coming off a bye week, has not had a bad season so far as a Freshman, going 83/152 for 1,125 yards this season. With a not so impressive 8 TD and 5 INTs, there are signs of weakness, which shows some promise for the Chavis defense. Coach Chavis’s defense has been, over the course of his career, a stumbling block for the Malzahn offense. The Hogs are going to have to come out with some fire and keep it going throughout this game to have a chance. With Arkansas having their obvious struggles the first half of the season, trying to stop War Eagle from celebrating in Reynolds Razorback Stadium is a key for the season.
The Arkansas Razorbacks are coming off a bad road loss to Kentucky last week. With many fans struggling with the outcome of the season so far, the players are staying focused at the task in front of them, the Auburn Tigers. Not many Hog Fans are weathering the season so far with 3 straight losses. All have been close, but none have come out the way Coach Morris and the Hog fans have wanted or expected.
Who will start at QB for the Hogs?
The big question heading in to Auburn week is who will be the starting QB for the Arkansas Razorbacks. This season, the time under center has been back and forth from Nick Starkel to Ben Hicks. With Hicks starting the season and Starkel taking over, overall it has been the same story as last year going from one to the other. Many Hog fans are having déjà vu from last year with Ty Storey and Cole Kelley which has turned into Nick Starkel and Ben Hicks. Starkel has the better stats going 88-150 with 1060 yards on the season with a 58.7% completion percentage.
Hicks has gone 41-80 for 510 yards. Looking at stats, you would think Starkel would be the easy choice but with 7 INTs from him this year and multiple games without a really good performance, can you rely on him in another one? There are so many unanswered questions and for a good change, they are not ALL on the O-line. Coach Chad Morris had leaned on Starkel for a few weeks now, I see him staying with him to at least start against Auburn, considering he is the QB you will also have next year with the extra year of eligibility.
Keys to the Game
Arkansas cannot end up one dimensional. In the Kentucky game, after Boyd suffered a shoulder injury early in the game, we seemed to get away from the running game. Coach Chad Morris even made comments about needing to keep the running game in the scheme from week to week. The problem is, Boyd has not been the running back to carry the ball 30 plus times a game, but his backup Whaley has not been what Hog fans thought. With Devwah not being able to carry a big load, the question becomes who can help the running game from week to week? Regardless of who is under center, we will need a big game from the wide receiver core to help this run game possibly work. Trey Knox, Treylon Burks, and Mike Woods will have to join forces with CJ O’Grady and find a way to get separation and make some catches in order to get the job done to kill the War Eagle vibe. It will take a team effort on offense to be able to move the ball. The Razorback defense is going to have to step up and grow up fast. The bad part of this, the only way to truly get better is get more depth and more team speed, which Arkansas is not going to get in a week. Bumper Pool started off amazing, in on almost every tackle in last week’s matchup in Lexington, but then slowly became a non-factor. Agim has been quiet for a few weeks now with nothing but a basic defensive performance. While our secondary, led by Kam Curl, has been chewed up and spit out by mobile QBs and bad penalties throughout games, they are learning and getting better, you can see the improvement, but still have a lot of growing to do as a team and individually. Keep working HOGS, we are behind you through it all.
Arkansas should come out with a lot of fight Saturday morning. After many weeks of defeat and many fans letting them know via radio and social media, the Hogs should come out with some fire. Although this game should start out like the last with the Razorbacks coming ready to play, the depth of the Auburn Tigers will end up being the Achilles heal for the Hogs. The Bo Nix Tigers have too much fire power and will lean heavily on the run game, as expected with a young QB, will end up being the down fall for our Hogs. With NO linebacker depth and offensive coordinators learning how to make Agim a non-factor during the run game, Auburn should rush for 150 yards plus overall on offense. Unfortunately, the Razorbacks will not get their first SEC win this weekend at home. Auburn will cover the spread and keep the Hogs at bay, continuing their streak against the Hogs. Gus will remember his time at Arkansas and make sure he makes a statement after their loss to Florida to keep them in talks for the SEC West title and a trip to Atlanta.
Auburn 42, Arkansas 17
Football Sports Writer for Natural State Sports
Co-Host of Thursday night live show “The Sports Junkies” along side Steve Hinson