If you ask the players and coaches, Auburn’s bye week couldn’t come at a worse time. That’s the confidence that comes from a three-game winning streak and a demolition of a recent SEC west opponent. But with a tough opponent in Arkansas headed into town next, Auburn should relish the off time to prepare.
Just three weeks ago, Gus Malzahn and Auburn fell to Texas A&M at home, dropping the Tigers to 1-2 on the year. Looking back, losses to Clemson and A&M don’t seem so bad. Both teams are undefeated half way through the season and looking like serious playoff contenders. And with Auburn now at 4-2 with losses to just those two contenders, Malzahn’s seat has cooled off dramatically. A win over Arkansas would simply serve as further evidence that Malzahn still has Auburn on the right track.
Arkansas’ offense is driven by its quarterback, Austin Allen. Allen took over for his older brother Brandon Allen, now in the NFL. Many pundits expected a heavy drop off in production when the younger Allen took over, but he’s showed an ability to command the offense. In fact, the signal caller is second in the SEC in passing yards this season. Against Alabama, in a 49-30 loss, Allen threw for over 400 yards and three touchdowns, but struggled with turnovers. He threw three interceptions, lost one fumble and took six sacks. His relative inexperience will be something for Auburn’s vaunted defense to key in on.
After losing Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams to the NFL, Bret Bielema turned to Rawleigh Williams III to take over the running game. Williams gained experience last season with Williams missing the year due to injury. As the starting back this year, Williams has been towards the top of the SEC, already with over 600 rushing yards and five scores, good enough for third in the conference. Auburn’s rush defense has been strong all season but they’ll have to ramp it up to slow down a running back averaging over five yards per carry.
Arkansas’ defense may be its weakest point and something that Auburn’s offense can take advantage. After an uncharacteristically slow start to the year, Rhett Lashlee’s playcalling appears to have ignited a spark, especially in quarterback Sean White. Against Alabama, the Razorbacks defense allowed more than 10 yards per play, hardly a blueprint for success. Their young and inexperienced safeties were targeted by Lane Kiffin and the Alabama offense time and time again and showed Auburn where to go for big plays. With two weeks to plan, Malzahn and Lashlee will have the offense ready to roll.
A win against Arkansas would move Auburn to 5-2 on the season. Going into the Tigers’ toughest stretch of the year, building momentum is key.