Defense: The Key to The Arkansas vs. Auburn Matchup

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Defense: The Key to The Arkansas vs. Auburn Matchup
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

With the explosive offenses of the Arkansas Razorbacks and Auburn Tigers hogging all the headlines this week, there has been very little talk about the two units faced with the challenge of holding down the offenses.

"Defense wins championships" is a football cliche that most of us have always heard, but like many cliches, there is an element of truth in that saying.

I don't think either of these teams will win a championship in 2009, but defense will be the difference in the Arkansas vs. Auburn matchup in the early morning hours of Saturday in Fayetteville.

With the amount of big plays surrendered by the Arkansas defense thus far in 2009, this unit is possibly the most maligned outfit this side of AIG. What has been obscured by the lapses is the steady improvement of the Hogs' D.

Georgia, Alabama, and Texas A&M did not have but a handful of successful plays in the running game between them. One guy out of position allowed the 80 yard run by Georgia's Richard Samuel. Four missed tackles let 'Bama's Trent Richardson go the distance.

Of course, the Hogs were crowding the line of scrimmage against UGA and Alabama and we don't yet know how good Texas A&M's offense really is.

Because the Hogs are the only major conference team the Aggies have played, we won't know for sure until Saturday whether the improvements shown last week in Dallas will translate into a stronger performance by the Hogs' defense vs. an SEC team.

Before last week, there was a growing "Free Willy" movement in the Natural State with much grumbling about the Hogs' embattled defensive coordinator. There was even a joke about Robinson making the rounds.

It seems, Willy Robinson, Paul Petrino, and Bobby Petrino were on a recruiting trip to Atlanta, GA. The plane went down in a rural area in north Georgia and everyone was shaken up, but survived.

A scruffy band of "crackers" happened upon the wreckage on a hunting trip. "Say, I know you, you're that sorry SOB 'Pertino" that lef' the Fa'cons afore the season was over" said the ringleader.

The hunters huddled and decided to herd the survivors into a pen and put them before a firing squad. "You got any last words?" the man said to B. Petrino. "Yeah", said the coach, "look out, tornado!" The men turned and the older Petrino had vaulted over the fence and into the night while they were distracted.

Then, repeating the process with Paul Petrino, when asked for his last words, the younger Petrino replied: "earthquake!" Again, the firing squad turned only to find another Petrino had vanished into the night.

Finally, turning to Willy Robinson, remember these guys aren't rocket scientists, the leader, as he handed Robinson the blindfold, asked for last words. "Fire!" Robinson exclaimed.

Now, I like the mustachioed Robinson, who looks like a cross between the Monopoly man and Teddy Roosevelt. I want him to succeed as the UA defensive coordinator.

However, the big plays by opponents must be cut way down starting with this game if the Hogs are to get to a bowl game in 2009, and for Willy to be around in 2010.

For all the talk about the offenses, this game will be won by the team that pressures the opposing passer better, or slows the other high powered offense down more. Both of these teams have offensive weapons, excellent schemes, and gaudy offensive statistics.

Any defense that lets Ryan Mallett stand in the pocket and survey the field for this lethal group of receivers better learn to like the Arkansas fight song, 'cause they'll be hearing it a lot.

For Auburn, even though Chris Todd and a couple of his receivers have impressive numbers, the thing that concerns me most about Auburn's offense is the running game and the almost exactly 50/50 balance between run and pass. Only five yards separate the two.

Most fans think of Gus Malzahn and think of an aerial circus, but Gus has always had balance in his offenses. That's an advantage for Auburn with the Hogs' offense tilted heavily toward the pass so far this season. If Michael Smith and Ronnie Wingo can get untracked, the play action passes in Petrino's arsenal become more dangerous.

That, not the Wildcat Offense, not Gus' trick plays, not any razzle-dazzle, is what the Hogs must be most concerned with. A defense that has been burned as much as the Hogs' tends to overreact afterward and be susceptible to everything in the opponents' playbook.

In a recent interview, former Auburn head man Tommy Tuberville dissed the Hogs' defense saying "they can't stop a cold, but they'll try to score some points," whatever that means. "They can't stop a cold" must be a clumsy mixed metaphor by Tommy T.

in 1998 when Tele-Tubby was still at Ole Miss, the Jefferson Pilot crew had a camera in the Rebels' locker room. Tubby ended his pregame pep talk with "'member fellas, nothin' stanks like a wet hawg" before his team got thrashed in a downpour 34-0.

Tubby picked Auburn by three touchdowns even after watching the Hogs in Dallas last weekend. He and Jackie Sherrill, who was also in attendance, must have been swapping notes on fishing or castrating bulls as Sherrill once did at MSU to get his team up for a game with the Texas Longhorns as the Hogs' defense came alive in the final 50 minutes of that game.

I don't think UA DE Jake Bequette can turnstile Lee Ziemba the way he did against a green Aggie freshman. However, Auburn better be aware of Tenarius Wright, the reigning SEC defensive lineman of the week.

In an earlier article I misspelled Wright's name "Tenarious", adding an "o", kind of like the "O, (expletive deleted)" Jerrod Johnson must have been uttering under his breath every time he got blasted by Wright last Saturday.

Tenarius Wright and Jarius Wright, the Hogs' sophomore receiver, are not only not twins, but not related. If twins, the pair would be of the Arnold Schwarzenegger/Danny Devito variety as in the 80's film "Twins" as Jarius is maybe 170 pounds with Tenarius weighing in at 245-250.

Saturday's game could mark the emergence of a DB or two who have been little-used thus far. If the Hogs defense has to load up the box to stop the run or must blitz to pressure Todd, the Hogs will have to try to win in a shootout.

I still think there is a chance this will be the shootout everyone was expecting in Dallas with Texas A&M, but it will be the defense that makes a stop or two more than the other whose team wins.

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