After their impressive win over Texas A&M last weekend, the Arkansas Razorbacks showed a lot of heart in the way they fought back in the second half.
The Hogs finally decided to show up, and how they showed up was impressive to say the least.
Coming from a very physical game with Alabama, it was as if the beat-down by the Crimson Tide had taken its toll on their spirit, as the Aggies scored five rushing touchdowns in the first half and the Hogs couldn’t muster either offense or defense to answer them, going into halftime down 35-17.
That’s when the Razorbacks woke up.
In the second half, the Arkansas defense shut them down to allow only three points, and the offense rolled up 25 points to beat the Aggies 42-35.
I briefly chronicle that game only to point out that the Arkansas Razorbacks have the talent and the desire to overcome hurdles and do just enough to win in the face of a daunting opponent. Does that sound familiar?
The Auburn Tigers head off to Fayetteville, Ark. this weekend to tangle with the Hogs in their third road game in a row and the second of the four games of October that will make or break their season.
Starting with last week's game at South Carolina, the degree of difficulty just gets tougher as the weeks progress.
The Tigers have already proven themselves in that game, beating the favored Gamecocks 16-13.
They showed us enough game and spirit to propel them from outside the Top 25 to No. 15 in the AP Poll.
As they take on Arkansas, things get bumped up a notch, and there are some Arkansas nuances that demonstrate that, as well as some things that the Tigers can use to their advantage.
Coming into the 2011 season, there was some speculation about the quarterback position at Arkansas.
The starting QB for 2010, Ryan Mallett, had jumped to the NFL, and filling his shoes wasn’t going to be easy.
Tyler Wilson had filled those shoes a couple of times during the 2010 season, once with outstanding results against Auburn, after Mallet suffered a concussion in the first half.
In the remainder of the game, Wilson passed for 332 yards and four touchdowns against what would become the BCS National Champions. He was already setting records as the second fiddle.
Auburn only escaped because rolled up 65 points to Arkansas' 43.
Last week, the Hogs’ junior outdid himself by passing for 510 yards, breaking Mallet’s and the school’s record, running for a two-point conversion to tie the game and then leading the team 80 yards in nine plays to win against Texas A&M against all odds based on their play of the first half.
One aspect of the game that is important to note is that A&M sacked Wilson four times, losing 31 yards in the process. Granted, the Aggies were leading the nation in sacks, but the Arkansas offensive line can be breached.
If Auburn is going to contain Tyler Wilson, it will have to become more defensively consistent in the pass rush, blitz when unexpected and cover those receivers that Wilson goes to for extreme yardage.
There’s a good reason Tyler Wilson is able to rack up extreme yardage in their passing offense.
He gets good pass routes from his receiving corps, getting open with an instinctive connection between receiver and QB.
Jarius Wright is that primary receiver who can kill you on his routes and connects with Wilson intuitively.
In fact, Wright and Wilson were named SEC Co-Offensive Players of the Week after their game in Texas.
Wright set a school record himself with 13 receptions and 281 yards against Texas A&M.
One important note on that record is that when things looked bleak for the Hogs early in the game, Wright had already broken that school record by the time the clock struck 0:00 to end the first half. He had gained 227 of his 281 yards.
Adversity doesn’t seem to phase him.
Auburn would be wise to study the Alabama game in which the Tide punished both Wilson and Wright, the latter coming out with an injury so that their numbers were not so stellar.
In other words, they can be defended, but it will take intensity, aggression and secondary coverage that the Auburn defense started showing against South Carolina.
As long as Wright stays covered, Wilson is vulnerable to being sacked.
Against Alabama, the Razorbacks tallied only 17 yards rushing while they actually outdid the Tide in passing 209 to 200 yards.
The ground game was average at best prior to playing Bama, and yes, they were playing the No. 1 defense in the country, but that changed against Texas A&M.
Statistics aside, head coach Bobby Petrino and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee understand they need a more balanced attack to sustain a consistent offensive attack. Part of that plan was scuttled early when star running back Knile Davis suffered an ankle injury in preseason and has been out the entire season.
Emerging in the A&M game was running back Dennis Johnson, subbing after the lackluster performance of their starter, Ronnie Wingo.
Johnson may have gotten enough juice from that game to play more of a role in the Auburn game to provide that balance the Razorbacks are looking for.
While the Arkansas offense was impressive against Texas A&M, rolling up a total of 581 yards, the Aggie offense did one better gaining 628, 381 of those with their rushing game.
In the first half, the A&M offense scored five touchdowns on the ground, against a defense that had only allowed one rushing TD prior to this game.
While head coach Bobby Petrino had a majority of his starters back at the beginning of the season, this defense has been rocked with injuries and they’re now starting some unknowns on the defensive side of the ball.
After the A&M game, you can bet the Razorback coaches will be reviewing the first and second half of the game to see where they let down in the first half and how they were able to hold the Aggies to only three points in the second.
The secondary can be porous at times, playing the opposing receivers too loosely. That is a problem Auburn experienced early in the season, but seems to have corrected as of last weekend.
Part of the reason that Arkansas’ defense could have been so effective in the second half is that the offense stayed on the field the majority of the time, giving the Hogs’ defense the ability to rest up.
But, there is still the question of what happened early in the game and what happened against Alabama.
The Tiger’s should be studying the differences in both periods of the A&M game as well and figure those things into the offensive game plan.
This head coach is considered one of the best offensive minds in football.
New York Giants' head coach Tom Coughlin, who worked with Petrino at the Jacksonville Jaguars, called him, “the best play caller I’ve ever been around”
His stock has surely gone up with his tenure at Arkansas after being wooed by the pro ranks, even though he jumped ship from the Atlanta Falcons to head to Fayetteville with three games left in the Falcons’ 2007 season.
That controversy is way behind him now, and he has built a solid and formidable foe for the Auburn Tigers in Arkansas.
His offensive prowess never faded, as he has been able to recruit some of the best talent in the country and build an armada that is consistently competitive year after year. His work with Ryan Mallett, and now Tyler Wilson, is a testament to his work molding quarterbacks.
But then, Auburn has Gus Malzahn, an offensive legend in his own right.
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof should be studying Petrino’s style and patterns, but you can count on an offensive shootout in Fayetteville between Bobby Petrino and Gus Malzahn.
As I mentioned in an earlier slide, the Hogs’ defense has been plagued with injuries, which is probably one reason they are sporadic in their performance.
Prior to the Texas A&M game, they had already lost key starting performers in two defensive ends, Jake Bequette and Tenarius Wright.
In the game with the Aggies, they lost starting defensive tackle Robert Thomas and defensive back Darius Winson.
Still, they were able to hold the Aggies to only three points in the latter half of the game, and the loss of these two players cannot completely explain the first half performance against A&M.
They obviously have some depth, as Winson was replaced with freshman Tevin Mitchell, who came on to make 13 tackles and a fumble recovery. Plus, the defensive line stepped up to keep the Aggies at bay throughout the second half.
Scouting the Razorbacks becomes more problematic with new players who don’t have that much history on film, but the A&M game being fresh and such a study in diversity between two distinctly different performances may give the coaches at Auburn plenty to go on for the Saturday offensive game plan in Fayetteville.
Nothing can stifle momentum like a false start penalty. Hurry up offenses lose their potency, and whatever crowd was in the game quickly become quiet.
Arkansas was penalized 14 times for 112 yards in the Texas A&M game. There were three false starts in the first quarter alone.
In fact, the majority of the penalties against Arkansas were just that, false starts, although there were two off-sides, a personal foul, a face mask and a holding call.
Going into the Alabama game, the Hogs had amassed 148 yards in penalties in three games, although they only fouled three times for 17 yards in the Bama contest.
This comes from a variety of things such as an inexperience line, crowd noise, disconnects with the snap count and so on.
It could have made a difference in the outcome of the A&M game was it not for the offensive dominance of the Hogs in the second half.
This could work to the advantage of the Tigers if the Razorbacks still prone to penalties.
It goes without question that the Auburn Tigers seem to do whatever it takes to win, and that comes in large part because they play with guts and heart.
The Razorbacks seem to have that heart too, especially looking at how they came from a halftime deficit of 35-17, momentum that seemed to go in Texas A&M’s direction and a Hog team that has been devastated at the starting positions with injury.
Their fortitude in the face of all that was evident in the second half against the Aggies, and their depth chart has to be permeated with those kind of guts to stop the A&M offense and mount an offensive attack to ultimately overcome.
These are two similar teams in that regard, so it may come down to a battle of wills and who has the biggest heart to win the game on Saturday.
The Arkansas Razorbacks return to their home campus after two weeks on the road, last week at Cowboys’ Stadium in Arlington, Tex., and the week before, they were beat up in Tuscaloosa.
Fayetteville, Ark. can be an unwelcoming experience for visiting teams, and the fans are as rabid for their Hogs as even the LSU Bengal Tigers in Death Valley.
The spiritual lift from their come-from-behind win over Texas A&M gives the Arkansas fans all the more reason to be unwelcoming to the Auburn Tigers.
After all, AU racked up 65 points in last year’s contest despite major offense put up by second string quarterback Tyler Wilson, relieving starter Ryan Mallett. Wilson is this year's starter and just as good as, if not better than, Mallett.
Fortunately for the Tigers, they have two road games under their belt in two similar venues, Death Valley with Clemson, their only loss, and in Columbia, SC, a great win.
They should be seasoned road warriors at this point, but never under estimate the “Woo Pig Sooooie” yell.
To make a statement that these teams are very much alike in the preseason, and the comments section of this article would have lit up with an abundance of naysayers.
However, at this point in the season, looking at Arkansas and Auburn as similar is not that much of a stretch.
With identical records of 4-1, both have only one loss to strong, undefeated teams in Clemson and Alabama.
They both are trying to build on those losses with changes and game plans customized for their opponents.
They also have a reputation for solid, if not genius, offensive strategies.
And, both have struggled at defense, with inexperience in most positions, Arkansas a new comer to that circumstance. But, both are showing improvement there as well.
Both play with a lot of heart and a desire to win; however, that gets done.
Overall, these are now two very closely matched teams, and it just may come down to a shoot out, and that could lead to a lot of offensive arrow-slinging, much to the detriment of either team. Look for a very close, but high-scoring, game in Fayetteville.