Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Tyler Wilson (8) will be the deciding factor in a Hogs victory or defeat vs. Auburn on Oct. 6.
Auburn, AL – Two very prideful programs find themselves in an odd position going into week six of the 2012 college football season, the Arkansas Razorbacks (1-4, 0-2) and Auburn Tigers (1-3, 0-2) are fighting not for a share of the SEC West title, as each fan base may have hoped for before the season began, but are fighting to not be considered the worst team in their division or in the entire SEC.
Excuses can be made all around for both programs why the fall from grace has happened, and many excuses have been made.
With three consecutive top 10 recruiting classes Auburn head coach Gene Chizik is running out of scapegoats. For the Razorbacks, the wealth of talent on offense should cover up the many glaring holes on defense but that has not been the case. For both Arkansas and Auburn programs the positives are not adding up to victories leading the finger pointing to poor coaching.
Auburn lost their BCS National Championship engineering offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn to Arkansas State at the end of the 2011 season and replaced him with Scot Loeffler. One can expect a transition from a wide open offense to a more ball controlled offense to take time to gel but the results have been much slower than expected.
Truth is Auburn’s offense was not that great last year finishing with a national ranking of No. 100. Unfortunately for Tiger fans Loeffler’s offense has taken another step back from last season’s disappointing performance. Auburn is ranked No. 113 in total offense, out of 120 Division-I teams, averaging 298 yards of total offense per game.
Another loss from last year’s Tiger team that has hurt offensively was the departure of Michael Dyer, a two-year 1,000 yard rusher, to Arkansas State. Without Dyer’s 1,242 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns from a year ago the Tigers are No. 12 out of 14 SEC teams in total rushing yards, 612.
For the Razorbacks the loss of former head coach Bobby Petrino speaks volumes in the win-loss record. Even without Petrino calling all of the shots the Arkansas passing offense has not missed a beat when senior quarterback Tyler Wilson has been under center.
As a team the Hogs are second in the SEC in passing offense, No. 21 overall, with 1,552 total passing yards for a 310 per game average. Even though Wilson missed a game and one half of action due to injury he is third in the SEC in total passing yards, 1,355, sporting a 338.75 per game average, seventh best in FBS.
The trouble with the Razorbacks offensively is not moving the ball but finding the end zone. The Razorbacks have been outscored 110-10 in two SEC games. Even more troubling is the lack of red zone proficiency for the Hogs, out of 19 drives into the opponent’s 20-yard line Arkansas has only scored 12 times with nine of those opportunities being turned into six points.
Part of the problem for the Razorbacks poor red zone production is Arkansas enters the Auburn game last in the SEC in total rushing yards, 533, 65 fewer yards than No. 13 Kentucky on 17 more attempts than the Wildcats (156 to 139).
As a team the Razorbacks are dead last in FBS in turnover margin. In five games the Hogs have taken the ball away from their opponents twice while giving the ball up 15 total times, seven fumbles and eight interceptions.
The tale of the tape between Arkansas and Auburn will come down to the passing offense of each team verses the passing defense of the other… a scary thought for both fan bases.
True sophomore Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier has arguably been the worst starting signal caller in the SEC. Frazier is No. 14 overall in total passing yards (546) while throwing seven interceptions to two passing touchdowns, and has taken nine sacks.
Wilson has nine passing touchdowns with five picks thrown but has managed to escape being sacked more than the stats show, sacked three times.
Neither quarterback has been accurate while forcing their offense. Wilson has a completion percentage of 54.5 to Frazier’s 52.8; No. 11 and No. 13 among qualifying quarterbacks in the SEC.
The Razorback secondary has been among the worst in college football. The secondary is ranked No. 117 in the nation allowing a total of 1,747 passing yards in five games (349.4 per game).
Auburn has allowed 844 total passing yards, good for No. 46 in FBS. Without Sammy Watkins, the Tigers limited Clemson to an opening week passing attack of only 208 yards thrown by Tajh Boyd. In week two Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell threw for 222 yards with three touchdowns.
What will Wilson be able to do against the Auburn pass defense?
Frazier threw for a season-high 194 yards verses Clemson. Since the season opener Frazier has thrown for 125 vs. MSU, 130 vs. UL-Monroe, and 97 yards against LSU.
The Razorbacks have not stopped the opposing quarterback since their opening game against Jacksonville State; AJ McCarron’s 189 yards passing does not count as a defensive stop for the Hogs considering he completed 11 of 16 attempts for 189 total yards. Since playing JSU the defense has given up 412 yards to Kolton Browing (ULM), 397 yards to Gary Nova (Rutgers), and 453 passing yards to Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) all career highs.
The Hogs secondary has been depleted by injuries and might be short starting safety Eric Bennett (hamstring) and part-time starting cornerback Kaelon Kellybrew (concussion) when they suit up against the Tigers.
Frazier will more than likely post career highs in passing yards against Arkansas but will it be enough for the Tigers to pull out the victory?
Of the two teams Auburn has been more consistent with their play on the field during the 2012 college football season while the Razorbacks are bumping around the field like The Bad News Bears.
Auburn had a bye week to prepare for Arkansas and get the privilege of playing at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The Razorback run offense showed signs of life against Texas A&M. Knile Davis had his best rushing effort since the opener against JSU compiling 65 net rushing yards while breaking away for a 64-yard receiving touchdown in the first quarter against the Aggies. Only trouble is Davis did nothing in the second half.
The Hogs will be without starting tight end Chris Gragg for the second straight week due to a deep leg bruise suffered against Rutgers.
Both teams have solid kicking games.
Auburn has the better coaching staff top to bottom.
Arkansas has the best player on the field in quarterback Tyler Wilson.
Arkansas 28 – Auburn 17
Auburn could make life difficult for Tyler Wilson but Wilson, if kept upright, has been unstoppable. Before long the Arkansas offense will start to find the end zone again, it is only a matter of time.
News and Notes
Auburn leads the series history 11-9-1 with Arkansas winning four of the last six games.
Auburn linebacker Daren Bates averages a conference high 11.8 tackles per game.
Arkansas linebacker Alonzo Highsmith is tied for the overall led in total tackles with 51 and is second in the SEC with a per game average of 10.2 tackles per game.
If the Razorbacks coaching staff has scouted Auburn thoroughly do not expect Zach Hocker to kick to Auburn kickoff returner Onterio McCalebb. McCalebb is averaging a SEC best 37 yards per kickoff return.
Dennis Johnson became the SEC all-time leader in kickoff returns when he returned two kicks for 56 yards against the Aggies last week. Johnson has averaged 21.5 yards per return during his Arkansas career.
Game location: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, AL.
Kickoff: 11:00 a.m. CT
TV: ESPN3 – SEC Network.