Auburn football looking for answers against revenge-minded Arkansas

(Photo by Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo by Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports) /

Following an embarrassing loss, Auburn football under Gus Malzahn hopes to get Bo Nix going vs. new-look Arkansas Razorbacks.

The Auburn Tigers were thoroughly beat last week by No. 4 Georgia 27-6. It was a game that Georgia dominated on both sides of the ball on their way to an early 24-0 lead which was never in doubt.

The Bulldogs showed a lot of improvement following their first game versus Arkansas as their offensive line manhandled the Auburn defensive front, and the defense was stout as usual, limiting Auburn to a total of 39 yards rushing.

Auburn’s struggles rushing could be attributed to several factors. Running against Georgia was always going to be difficult, but the Tigers’ leading rusher, Tank Bigsby, only had eight carries.

Perhaps Auburn was reluctant to test the Georgia defense, but the game script was never in their favor after the second quarter. Also, the absence of Shaun Shivers, the other primary back, did not help. That said, Auburn only rushed for 91 yards vs. Kentucky, so the run game remains an issue.

Although he was not given any help, Bo Nix also did not play very well.

At times, it is easy to see why Gus Malzahn likes the sophomore quarterback. He can make great plays by putting the ball where only his receivers can get it or by making plays with his feet. However, he seems to be only as good as the great plays that he can make, and when he is not getting fans out of their seats, he is not particularly good. This has led to issues with consistency, and he struggled often against Georgia.

Of course, the offensive line was also an issue. They feature five new starters that will need to give Nix more time. That said, it was a little worrying that Nix appeared to get visibly frustrated against the Bulldogs.

As for Arkansas, the Razorbacks snapped their 20-game SEC losing streak last Saturday against Mississippi State by winning 21-14.

Arkansas’ defense was the story. Bulldog quarterback KJ Costello went 43-for-59 with 313 yards but also threw three interceptions. Arkansas under defensive coordinator Barry Odom dropped eight players in a zone for almost the whole game and employed a “bend but don’t break” approach that worked spectacularly.

That said, it is still too early to determine whether this is a great defense since the scheme used against Mike Leach’s air-raid was unique.

Just like LSU was unprepared for Mississippi State’s offense, the Bulldogs also might not have been ready for Arkansas’ defense. Costello often took what the defense gave him. This was smart football, but by only rushing three, Arkansas often gave Costello time to possibly make plays downfield, which he is certainly capable of doing. Instead, by only gaining 3-4 yards per play, he chose to march downfield, which can be very difficult unless staying on schedule on each down.

On offense, the Hogs continued to struggle as they mustered only 14 offensive points. Arkansas only had 63 yards rushing, although star running back Rakeem Boyd left the game early with an injury. Early indications are that he and athletic wide receiver Treylon Burks might return for Saturday.

Meanwhile, Razorback fans had this game circled as they are looking to get back at Auburn now that former head coach Chad Morris is the offensive coordinator for the Tigers.

Auburn, on the other hand, is looking to continue their recent domination of Arkansas and enters the game ranked No. 13 in the latest AP poll.

Date: Saturday, Oct. 10
Time: 4 p.m. ET
Location: Auburn, Ala.
Venue: Jordan-Hare Stadium
TV: SEC Network
Live Stream: WatchESPN

Keys to Victory

Who can get something going?

Arkansas and Auburn currently rank Nos. 12 and 13 in total offense and rushing in the SEC, respectively.

Malzahn’s offense at its best has always been predicated upon the run. Luckily, Shaun Shivers could return after missing last week’s game.

As for Nix, give him some easy, high-percentage throws early to build his confidence. This is not Georgia, and he does not need to be a hero.

An important key is getting wide receiver Seth Williams more involved after he only had three receptions for 34 yards last week. Williams is 6-foot-3 and a future NFL talent. He can make Nix look like a great quarterback only if he throws him the ball. However, Williams was reportedly banged up against Georgia and remains questionable for Saturday.

Assuming he plays, Arkansas must obviously limit Williams, who is Auburn’s best offensive player. Second, they need to stop Nix’s ability to make plays by containing him in the pocket and stuffing him if he runs. This is an Auburn offense that needs to find a spark somewhere, so in the absence of a running game, making the occasional play here could be big. Arkansas linebacker Bumper Pool, who had 20 tackles last week, will be needed.

On offense, it is about time that the Razorbacks get Boyd going. Noticeably, the read option/sweep has to improve since this play is often the cornerstone of many offenses. When it worked, Feleipe Franks was able to make a couple of nice runs up the middle. However, bad reads and poor execution led to two fumbles in the last game.

Arkansas’ offensive line must also find a way to give Franks a little more time. Too often he has been forced to run or make throws. Auburn will have to find a way to generate pressure following a couple of key departures on their defensive front this past offseason.

Betting Odds

Courtesy of The Action Network

Point Spread: Auburn -16
Over/under: 48


With the remnants of Hurricane Delta expected to pass through the area on Saturday, the keys to victory might be reduced to whoever can run the ball better. Thus, the availability of Shivers for Auburn and Boyd for Arkansas will be important. I do not feel confident in my prediction, but here it goes.

Final Score: Auburn 28, Arkansas 17

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