AUBURN, Ala. — Rhett Lashlee is quite familiar with the Arkansas football program. He played for the Razorbacks, coached them and faced them three different times as Auburn’s offensive coordinator.
So when Lashlee sat down on Saturday night of Auburn’s bye weekend and watched his alma mater take on Ole Miss, he wasn’t shocked at anything he saw.
And that’s exactly the challenge ahead of him and the rest of the Tigers this upcoming Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium (6 p.m. ET, ESPN).
“There’s a lot of familiarity,” Lashlee said Sunday night. “(Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith) has been there and he does a really good job at what they do. He’s very familiar with us … This will be I guess the third year he’s been there, fourth year with Bielema, and they do a really good job. They do a good job defensively making you earn everything you get, making you execute.”
Arkansas is coming off a massive 34-30 upset win over Ole Miss, which was its first SEC win of the season. The No. 17 Razorbacks held a high-flying Rebels offense to its fewest number of first downs (20) and points on the season, and second-fewest yards (403).
Smith’s defense doesn’t come up with too many three-and-outs, Lashlee said, but it does a great job of frustrating offenses with sound football.
“They’re consistent, they’re tough and again, they make you earn everything,” Lashlee said. “There’s just not a lot of big plays. You can tell they play a scheme that allows them to know where their strengths are and where their weaknesses are so they know where you’re going to try to attack them. They do a really, really good job of defending those areas.”
But Lashlee, who is now 3-0 as Auburn’s primary offensive play-caller in 2016, doesn’t have to just worry about the problems presented by the Arkansas defense.
The Razorbacks rank No. 2 nationally this season in average time of possession at a whopping 35:41 per game. Even with a greater focus on airing it out more in the last couple of seasons, Arkansas still loves to melt down the game clock with its ball-control offense.
Auburn junior linebacker Tre’ Williams said the Tigers defense is leaning on the experience gained from its win over LSU, another power-minded team that uses pro-style sets.
“(Auburn’s coaches) told us before the season even started we’re only going to have two or three teams that’s going to be that pounding team,” Williams said Sunday. “So once we played LSU, we got that foundation down to know what we’re going to have to do, and now we’ve got Arkansas.”
As Auburn’s defense gears up for another pro-style challenge from Arkansas’ offense, the Razorbacks’ possession-based strategy influences what Lashlee has to do when the Tigers have the ball.
“Our defense is going to try to get off the field,” Lashlee said. “When we get the ball though, you do know that the way they are playing offensively … if you don’t take advantage of every possession, you may lose a possession or two in the game.
“It goes back to they make you earn everything and you got to be extremely efficient to beat them. That’s their game plan, and they’re really good at it.”