HOGS at Auburn in-depth preview
FAYETTEVILLE - Two former Arkansas coaches and rainy remnants of a hurricane await the Razorbacks Saturday afternoon in Auburn, Ala.
The 13th-ranked Auburn Tigers (1-1) play host to first-year head coach Sam Pittman and his 1-1 Hogs at 3 p.m. Saturday. ESPN will televise the game from Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.
A 70 percent chance of thunderstorms courtesy of Hurricane Delta is predicted. Auburn’s staff includes offensive coordinator Chad Morris, the head coach of these same Razorbacks in 2018 and 2019 until fired with a 4-18 overall record (0-14 SEC mark) with two SEC games left, which Arkansas also lost.
The Razorbacks broke a 20-game SEC losing streak last week by upsetting Mississippi State 21-14, while Auburn, a Sept. 26 winner at home over Kentucky, was stifled 27-6 by the same great Georgia defense stifling Arkansas’ offense the previous week.
Arkansas coordinator Barry Odom’s defense has surprised, and Kevin Steele’s Auburn defense is always formidable. Neither defense rates with Georgia’s, which led the nation last year and ranks fourth this season.
After two games, Arkansas ranks No. 33 nationally in total defense and No. 32 in scoring defense (25.5 ppg). Auburn ranks 44th in total defense and No. 18 in scoring defense (20 ppg). Arkansas has forced twice as many turnovers (six), including a pick-6 TD to open the game at Mississippi State, as Auburn has (three).
A downpour could hamper both offenses. Arkansas appears particularly vulnerable. The Hogs have generated a paltry running game thus far and preseason All-SEC running back Rakeem Boyd is iffy. Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks and top cornerback Montaric Brown, both injured at State, are questionable for Saturday afternoon.
An absent or impaired Boyd presents a challenge, but backup running back Trelon Smith, Arkansas’ leading rusher thus far, and his offensive line vow to do better.
“If it's raining, you'd like to run the ball a little more,” Pittman said. “So, it will give us a chance to prove we can run the ball."
Georgia held Auburn to a pair of field goals and 39 net yards rushing, while Auburn quarterback Bo Nix threw 40 passes and completed 21 for 177 yards with an interception, breaking a streak of 251 passes without a pick.
Thumb surgery repairing torn ligaments apparently will sideline All SEC Preseason first-team Auburn linebacker K.J. Britt.
Auburn’s head coach, Gus Malzahn, coached Arkansas high school champion teams at Hughes, Shiloh Christian and Springdale and served as Arkansas offensive coordinator during a controversial 2006 SEC West season in an at uneasy pairing with former Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt.
Malzahn moved on to coordinate offenses at Tulsa, and Auburn and head coached Arkansas State in 2012 and Auburn since 2013, while periodically being touted as a candidate for various Arkansas head coaching vacancies.
Current Razorbacks simply associate Malzahn as Auburn’s coach, but Morris is a different story. Morris recruited many of these Razorbacks and coached the other he inherited from the Bret Bielema staff in the Winter of 2017.
Whatever his pregame impact on these Hogs, they’ve been wise enough, likely at Pittman’s advice, to downplay it.
“We're not really focused on that right now,” senior left offensive tackle Myron Cunningham, a junior college transfer signed by the Morris regime for 2019. “We're just coming out to practice every day, trying to get better and focusing on beating Auburn this weekend."
Junior safety Joe Foucha, whose two interceptions in last week’s 21-14 victory over Mississippi State earned him SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Week honors along with linebacker Bumper Pool’s 20 tackles, faces Morris’ offensive play-calling.
“We’re going to be ready for whatever Coach Morris has ready to throw at us,” Foucha said. “We’re going to be all over it. That’s all I can say about that.”
Pittman, the Georgia offensive line coach from 2016-2019, said kicking off the game quickly erases emotions of players and old coaches facing each other.
“I don’t know how Coach (Morris) will feel about it,” Pittman said, “but I was the O-line coach at Georgia and we played them. So, it’s not really a big deal. We won’t mention the fact that Coach Morris was the head coach here. They know it. Some of them probably loved him and some of them probably didn’t, just like any coach. We’re just trying to compete and win the football game.”
Malzahn coached his second Auburn game against the Arkansas State team he coached in 2012. He said it does feel different right up to kickoff.
“Once the game starts, it’s just like any other game,” Malzahn said. “You do your job. Arkansas is coming off a big win. So it ought to be a good one.”