Auburn Tigers vs. Arkansas Razorbacks: The Complete Preview
Suddenly, the Auburn Tigers have gone from being the hunters to the hunted.
After a big upset win over Texas A&M two weeks ago, the Tigers have skyrocketed up the BCS standings and been thrust into the national spotlight—and now they find themselves in position as the team on upset alert rather than the one looking to play spoiler.
This week, Arkansas is the team hoping to knock off the Tigers and end a dream season for Auburn before it ever gets started.
The Razorbacks have lost five straight games going into Saturday's game, but the Hogs had a bye week last week to prepare for Auburn and regroup after that tough stretch.
Arkansas will be ready to give No. 11 Auburn its best shot when the Tigers ride into Fayetteville on Saturday.
Will it be enough? First, here are the basics.
Time: 5 p.m. CT
Place: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Ark.
Spread: Auburn -8, via Vegas Insider consensus.
Auburn Keys to Victory
Run the Football
Auburn boasts one of the nation's best rushing attacks using Gus Malzahn's hurry-up, downhill schemes, and when the Tigers' trio of running backs is rolling, Auburn is a tough team to beat.
The Tigers are fifth-best in the country averaging 315.38 rushing yards per game, but more perhaps more importantly, Malzahn's entire run and play-action offense is based around a strong running game. When the Tigers' running game gets going, so can the rest of the offense—and that's especially true when they go on the road.
Don't Give Up the Big Play
At this point, Auburn is further along than Arkansas in the two teams' respective rebuilding processes. As long as the Tigers hold serve throughout the game, match the Razorbacks blow-for-blow, and don't give up big plays on defense or turn the ball over offensively, Auburn will have a pretty strong shot at winning this game.
Arkansas Keys to Victory
Stop the Run
No one has been able to slow down Auburn's three-headed monster at running back this season—but as soon as a defense finds a way to shut down Tre Mason, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne, that defense may just find a way to derail Malzahn's offense entirely.
If the Razorbacks can knock the Auburn ground game off-kilter and force Nick Marshall to beat them through the air in their own stadium, they could come away with the upset on Saturday.
Jump Out Early
This game has all the makings of an offensive shootout, and the Tigers offense has proven that they are ready and willing to go blow-for-blow with some of the nation's best.
But it seems the best way to beat the Tigers in a shootout is to put the Auburn offense behind the eightball and put the Tigers in too deep of a hole to crawl out of early.
It's easier said than done, but once LSU jumped out 21-0 on top of Auburn in Week 4, the orange-and-blue Tigers were all but finished.
Auburn Players to Watch
Auburn's junior quarterback left last week's big victory over Florida Atlantic in the second quarter with an apparent injury to his throwing shoulder after a sack. All indications point to Marshall being back at 100 percent in time for kickoff Saturday, but the quarterback's game could be affected—especially in how he runs with the football.
While Marshall could be nursing a somewhat tender shoulder, the burden will fall to junior running back Tre Mason to spearhead the Auburn rushing attack once again, with Grant and Artis-Payne behind him.
On the road, Auburn should look to rely on Mason even more. Two weeks ago on the road against Texas A&M, Mason carried the ball 27 times, and in the Tigers' only other away game of the season on Sept. 21 against LSU, he finished with 26 carries. Those two workhorse performances mark his top two single-game totals in carries this season—and only one other time has he carried it more than 15 times in a game.
In both of those road performances, Mason delivered. The junior finished with 132 yards and two touchdowns against LSU and 178 yards and the late game-winning touchdown against Texas A&M.
Arkansas Players to Watch
Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams
Arkansas has a solid rushing attack of its own in Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, the Razorbacks' running back duo that have pioneered their move to Bret Bielema's smashmouth brand of football.
With Collins and Williams leading the way, Arkansas has put together the SEC's fourth-best rushing offense, rolling up 209.88 yards per game on the ground. Collins is the SEC's third-leading rusher with 99.63 yards per game, while Williams adds another 76.5 yards per game.
So far this season, the Razorbacks have gone the way of their quarterback. In his last three games, the Arkansas starter has been a combined 28-of-78 for 285 yards, no touchdowns and four interceptions—and all three games were losses for Arkansas.
If Arkansas is going to turn its season around and pull an upset win over Arkansas, it's going to start with Allen and his play under center.
What They Are Saying
There's been a touch of drama brewing this week between Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. It all started Monday, when Bielema flatly accused Auburn of not following protocol when it comes to the Tigers' "swinging gate" extra-point look, via Brandon Marcello of AL.com.
"There are just some clips that haven't—shall we say, the TV copy doesn't match the film copy. And it's something we have kind of been aware of now for the last week and half in getting our preparation. So we can use other film and stuff like that to make sure we are getting the full picture."
Tuesday morning, Malzahn said that the matter was resolved, via Mike Szvetitz of the Opelika-Auburn News.
"We'll always operate with the utmost integrity in everything we do. If there's ever anything I don't know about that's brought to my attention, we'll deal with it in a prompt manner. The SEC office was aware of all the details on both sides."
The latest riff between the two coaches has only served as a callback to the last time the two seemed to butt heads through the media, during SEC Media Days before the season—when Bielema disparaged the no-huddle's place in football, and Malzahn famously said that he first thought the idea that the no-huddle was dangerous to be a joke.
Tuesday, Malzahn felt the need to clarify what was said back then, too, via Szvetitz.
"When I was standing up for our no-huddle, it wasn't directed at any one person. As a matter of fact, there were a lot of people that were coming out and saying stuff regarding that. I was just standing up for our philosophy and what we believe in on that."
Auburn 41, Arkansas 23
The Tigers will face a tough challenge Saturday night, travelling to Fayetteville to play the Razorbacks, but in the end, Auburn should be able to outgun Arkansas and come away with a victory.
Both teams entered the season at the start of a rebuilding process. Halfway through the year, Gus Malzahn's team has somehow found an identity for themselves on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball—while the Razorbacks are still looking to figure out just who they are and how they can win on a consistent basis.
It won't be easy for Auburn—and Bielema will be sure to have a few tricks up his sleeve after the bye week and with his team's back against the wall—but the Tigers match up well against the Hogs and they should be able to come away with the win.
Justin Lee is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @byjustinlee.