Auburn Tigers (4-2, 1-2 SEC) vs. Arkansas Razorbacks (2-4, 1-2 SEC)
This is a critical SEC matchup between two teams clinging to slim hopes of an SEC West division title. Auburn, who won its first conference game last Thursday against Kentucky, will face an Arkansas team coming off a bye week. The Razorbacks last played on Oct. 10 in a 24-10 loss to Alabama.
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 24, noon ET (SEC Network)
Weather: 62 degrees and cloudy. 40 percent chance of rain at kickoff. (Weather.com)
Line: Auburn +6.5 (VegasInsider.com)
By the numbers
Arkansas is giving up an SEC-worst 258.3 passing yards per game through six games. However, the Razorbacks are ranked third in the SEC allowing just 107 rushing yards per game.
This provides an interesting dilemma for Auburn, whose offense is predicated on establishing the run.
Auburn has run the ball 261 times compared to only 138 passes with 12-of-17 of the Tigers’ touchdowns coming via the ground. Sean White threw for a career-high 255 yards in Auburn’s win over Kentucky, but the freshman has yet to throw a touchdown in three starts.
Auburn could be forced to test the Razorbacks’ secondary early if the running game gets off to a slow start.
Auburn comes into this matchup 23-of-31 (74.1 percent) on third down plays of four yards or less. If Auburn can stay out of long third-down situations then the game will probably favor the Tigers.
Both teams have atrocious third-down defenses. Auburn is allowing opponents to convert on an SEC-worst 45.68 percent of third downs, while Arkansas is slightly better at 45.12 percent.
Oddly enough, Auburn’s defense tends to improve on third down as the game progresses. Opponents are converting 58.8 percent of third downs in the first quarter, but that number drops to 26.3 in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Third-down success (or failure) will likely tell the story of this game.
Auburn running back Peyton Barber seems to get better as the game wears on. Barber is averaging 5.64 yards per carry in the second half of games compared to 3.82 in the first half.
Arkansas’ defense has developed the opposite trend.
The Razorbacks opponents’ have averaged 4.27 yards per carry in the first half, but just 2.74 yards per carry in the second half.
Something has to give on Saturday.
Storylines to watch
Will Auburn’s offense breakout again?
Auburn’s offense rediscovered its explosiveness against Kentucky with a season-high 407 yards. White connected on multiple long pass plays downfield with wide receiver Ricardo Louis.
Louis finished with seven receptions for 154 yards.
The bye week appeared to spark Auburn’s offense early on as the Tigers moved the ball with ease. However, Kentucky was able to hold Auburn scoreless in the third quarter.
Malzahn will have to find a way to avoid that kind of drought against Arkansas. Auburn will likely need another 30-point performance to pull off a victory.
Can Auburn generate a push on Arkansas’ humongous offensive line?
To say Auburn’s defense has been bad would probably be an understatement. The Tigers are last in the SEC in total defense with opponents racking up 426.2 yards per game. Auburn gave up 497 yards to Kentucky in last Thursday’s 30-27 win.
The Tigers will face one of the largest offensive lines in the country on Saturday. Arkansas’ offensive linemen have an average weight of 327.8 pounds. The lightest of the bunch, right tackle Frank Ragnow, weighs in at a svelte 311 pounds.
Arkansas has allowed just five sacks this season, so Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp could be forced to dial up blitzes to disrupt Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen. However, that strategy may leave the secondary exposed.
If the Tigers can’t get in the Arkansas backfield without sending blitzes, it could be another long day for the defense.
Can the Tigers slow down Alex Collins?
In addition to keeping Allen in check, Auburn also has to worry about junior running back Alex Collins. Collins is averaging 113.67 rushing yards per game including 5.46 yards per carry.
Auburn is giving up an average of 5.07 yards per carry and 197.67 rushing yards per game, so this looks like a favorable matchup for Collins. The Tigers have given up at least 400 yards of total offense in every game but one this season.
This could be another game where Auburn allows a lot of yards, but if the Tigers can force turnovers and keep Arkansas under 30 then they have a chance.
This one is a toss up. Both teams have the personnel to exploit the other’s flaws, so this could come down to special teams.
Auburn has the advantage in that department with kicker Daniel Carlson. Carlson, who is 9-of-12 on field goals, is the only kicker in the country to make three field goals of 50 yards or more this season.
That will be the difference.