No. 17 HOGS vs. Auburn preview

No. 17 HOGS vs. Auburn preview

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FAYETTEVILLE - The Arkansas Razorbacks are favored (by Las Vegas gambling outlets) to win an SEC football game for the first time since 2017.

“I’d rather be favored than 22-point underdogs,” UA second-year head coach Sam Pittman said. “I don’t know what it means to be honest with you, but we are favored against Auburn. So we’ve come a little ways, you know. We’ll find out.”

Pittman's Razorbacks (4-2, 1-2 in the SEC) play host to Auburn (4-2, 1-1) at 11 Saturday morning with clear skies and 57 degrees expected for homecoming kickoff. CBS plans to televise the game.

After inheriting in 2020 a program that had gone 0-8, 0-8 the previous two years in the SEC, Pittman finds Arkansas favored Saturday after upsetting then-No. 15 Texas and then-No. 7 Texas A&M earlier this season.

Las Vegas favors the Hogs by four over first-year coach Bryan Harsin’s Auburn Tigers.

While Arkansas is ranked No. 17 and Auburn unranked, the Tigers have lodged in the Top 25 throughout the season until getting thumped 34-10 last week by No. 1 Georgia.

Georgia waxed then-No. 8 Arkansas 37-0 two Saturdays ago. Arkansas only dropped to No. 13 on the strength of its victories over Texas and Texas A&M and just swapped places with then-No. 17 Ole Miss off losing 52-51 on a foiled 2-point conversion last Saturday in Oxford, Miss.

Auburn’s only other loss this fall was at No. 7 Big Ten power Penn State.

“Auburn’s only two losses have been to two Top 7 teams in the country,” Pittman said. “They have a really, really good football team.”

A team posing many of the same offensive problems that Ole Miss vexed Arkansas with last week. Mobile Ole Miss QB Matt Corral wore the Hogs out passing for 287 yards without an interception and rushing 94 yards while complementing the combined 221 rushing yards of running backs Henry Parrish and Snoop Conner.

Auburn features Houdini-like escape artist and run-pass QB Bo Nix and explosive running backs Tank Bigsby (146 rushing yards vs. Arkansas last year) and Jarquez Hunter. They operate behind an offensive line returning four starters. Auburn boasts veteran receivers and All-America place-kicker Anders Carlson.

Nix ranks ninth in the SEC (219 yards per game) in total offense, two spots below Arkansas sophomore QB KJ Jefferson (259 YPG). 

The Tigers play traditionally solid “Auburn defense,” Pittman said, paced by All-SEC safety Smoke Monday.

Arkansas’ defense started hotter than Auburn’s but, hurt by poor field offense, got run over by Georgia.

Last week, Ole Miss abused the Hogs by scoring 52 points and amassing 611 yards total offense: 324 running and 287 yards passing without a turnover.

Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom spent this week analyzing everything that started so well operating out of a three-man front to the recent deterioration abetted by the injuries of playing six games in six weeks.

“There will be some corrections and changes and different things,” Pittman vowed.

Offensively, the Razorbacks rebounded from the shutout administered by Georgia’s top-ranked defense to amass 676 yards total offense in Oxford.

Jefferson completed 25 of 35 passes last week  for 326 yards and three TDs while rushing 20 times for 85 yards. He played every bit as well in Oxford as Ole Miss’ Corral, regarded as a strong Heisman Trophy candidate.

“Wasn’t he competitive?” Pittman marveled.

Jefferson averages 53 rushing yards per game, second only among SEC quarterbacks to Florida's Emory Jones and ahead of Corral by 2 yards per outing.

For the Razorbacks, Saturday marks the first Fayetteville game after three weeks playing Texas A&M at the neutral site Dallas Cowboys AT&T Stadium then at Georgia and at Ole Miss.

The Hogs have sold enough tickets potentially to rival the crowd against Texas, but it’s the volume they produce that Pittman values more for an 11 a.m. kickoff.

“Anybody who went to Georgia, that was 11 o’clock (CDT),” Pittman said. “They hit 110 decibels. I don’t think our fanbase is into excuses. I think they’ll be there. I believe they can make a difference in the football game.”

Indeed. The difference makes Arkansas a first-time slight favorite.

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