AUBURN, Ala. — While Auburn was sitting at home resting and inching closer to full health, Arkansas was pulling off a striking home upset over Ole Miss. The Razorbacks have played tough in their last three games, improving despite the loss to Alabama and the close win over the Rebels.
Auburn’s games against Arkansas have gone back and forth over the last decade. Masterful defense will be important for both teams, as will quarterback play. Here’s why the play of Marcus Davis, Maurice Swain Jr. and Stephen Roberts will be important against Arkansas on Saturday:
Senior WR Marcus Davis
Through the Tigers’ first six games, it was unclear what exactly was wrong with Davis. The senior caught only 13 passes for 100 yards and seemed to be struggling more than usual, though he had voiced hopes for a memorable final season.
Turns out Davis has been dealing with a nagging hand injury which has at times prevented from from making typical plays, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said in his press conference Sunday.
Lashlee also said Davis is the healthiest he’s been coming off of the bye week. It could be perfect timing. Quarterback Sean White has been able to settle into his role over Auburn’s three straight wins, and Lashlee has been intent on balancing the run game and passing attack a little more.
Davis’ impact could be huge in Saturday’s game against the Razorbacks — and Lashlee said as much. If he’s able to make some big plays that have been missing through the first half of the year, it could spark Lashlee’s offense moving into the rest of Auburn’s SEC schedule.
Senior DL Maurice Swain Jr.
Auburn’s defense will be crucial in this physical matchup against the Hogs. Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen is tough — he’s hit constantly and still finds ways to scramble and make plays. He’s been doing it against talented defensive fronts in Alabama and Ole Miss, too.
The 6-foot-5, 314 pound Swain has the potential to pressure Allen. Jeff Holland has been more active since Paul James III has been out with a knee injury, but production from the second line hasn’t been exactly what the Tigers have hoped for. At one point, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele addressed the play of Byron Cowart, saying, “He’s been involved in plays that he’s supposed to be involved in. There wasn’t anything where he gave up anything, so that’s a starting point.”
If Swain can come into the game and have an impact, it could give the first line a much-needed chance to breathe and set the tone for the second group, who can’t relax against the Razorbacks.
Junior DB Stephen Roberts
Roberts rebounded after serving a suspension in Auburn’s home opener against Clemson. He’s had a few big pass deflections through the first half of the season and added a diving interception against Mississippi State. The Tigers defense will look to force Allen and his offense to make turnovers, and Roberts needs to play a part in those efforts.
Drew Morgan is the top receiver for the Razorbacks with 37 catches, but overall Arkansas spreads the ball pretty evenly among the wideouts. Allen also has shown he’s not afraid to take shots downfield. Roberts will have a chance to continue improving, and if he’s able to grab another interception, the defense will feed off of his energy.