It is a shiny quarter. One side features a profile of George Washington while the flip side displays an eagle. In talking to fans of both Auburn and Arkansas this week, it seems there is almost a universal opinion on the outcome of Saturday’s game at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn. Call it a tossup.
This particular quarter was issued in 1963 and is made from 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper. Calls to respected members of the media were pointless, as many expressed a sentiment that sounded similar. Flip a coin.
It is these discussions that forced this quarter to be consulted to determine who will win the game this Saturday.
Here is what the quarter knows: He knows that both Bobby Petrino and Gene Chizik have their teams ranked nationally for this contest. A first for any game played between the two.
The quarter also knows that both teams have played in several games that have been decided by less than 10 points this season. Auburn has four wins on the season where single digits were the difference. Arkansas has three games settled in a similar fashion. They won twice and lost one.
Another reason the quarter is being involved in the decision is the strength each team has on offense. Auburn enjoys a meager 21 yard per game advantage over the Razorbacks in total offense (483 to 462 yards per game).
Something starts to emerge from the numbers though. Put the quarter away! Auburn can run the football and Arkansas can’t. The Tigers are the best running team in the SEC. The Hogs are dead last. As an even broader reference point, Arkansas is one of the nation’s worst teams when it comes to running the ball.
Hold on just a second though. When it comes to the passing attack, Arkansas is the more effective team while Auburn is just kind of average. Oh, time to get the quarter back out.
Defense is where the edge is for each team. That will be the difference maker. How do they stack up here? Maybe not. It looks like they both play pretty good defense. Auburn is solid against the run, but the Hogs don’t run much. Arkansas is good against the pass, but the Tigers perform better on the ground.
Number after number reveals nothing that really separates the two teams and with the quarter sitting on top of the thumb a thought occurs. Earlier in the week a vending machine took a quarter from me and did not give it back. I really wanted my quarter back.
Quarterback. That's it. This game will be decided by the play of the two quarterbacks.
Who has the edge? Which one will keep the quarter from getting tossed into the air to pick a winner?
First, there is the strong accurate arm of Arkansas’s Ryan Mallett. The junior is connecting on 69 percent of his passes and has already thrown for 1,748 yards this season. He also has some of the nation’s best receivers to throw to. Take a look. Three different Razorback receivers are in the SEC’s Top 10.
Then there is Auburn’s Cam Newton. He only throws for 189 yards per game. There it is—the edge needed for the Hogs. No. Not really. What he lacks in passing he makes up for on the ground with his legs. Newton rushes for 112 yards per game and leads the SEC…the guy is not even a running back.
How will these two guys determine the outcome? One of them will have to step up in a game that is close in the final quarter. Who wins when the game is in the balance?
This season, Newton has led the Tigers to wins in all their tight games. Mallet has not. Sure, Mallett threw a great pass to Greg Childs to take Georgia down, but without those two picks against Bama, the Razorbacks are undefeated. There is also that image of a frustrated Mallett throwing a punch at an Aggie from the bottom of a pile last weekend.
There it is. A reason to pick one team over the other. Newton has pulled it off in every game Auburn has played. Mallett missed the opportunity once when he did not have to do anything to get the win. He just had to not make a mistake.
When these two teams meet Saturday look for Auburn to win a close game. That is what to expect until Mallett shows he can keep his poise in every game, no matter what the situation. That or we discover Newton can be rattled with the game on the line.