Published October 4, 2012 - 9:30am
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For head coach Gene Chizik, Saturday’s contest in Auburn against the Arkansas Razorbacks will be the most crucial game of his career. We’ve already said (seemingly ad nauseum) that Chizik and Auburn have been playing with fire this season and already had some “must win” games, but those were directed more to the 2012 season’s hopes.
Concerning the Arkansas game, it’s not so much about tallying a win; it’s about not losing to the specific downward-spiraling team the Tigers are playing.
There may not be a worse major-conference team to lose to right now. Unless you’ve been under a rock, or spent your fall Butt-Chugging, you know that this Arkansas team is in as much disarray as a program can be. It all starts at the top, and John L. Smith has given the media and fans around the country no shortage of ammo to fire at him and his program.
There have been injuries, talk of dissention, poor red zone play, and just plain awful defense for the Hogs to this point, and Smith hasn’t exactly proven a steady leader throughout it all.
The Razorbacks enter the weekend with a 1-4 record, losing to mediocre teams like Rutgers and Louisiana Monroe, with its lone win in the form of an opening season victory against Jacksonville State. Two conference losses have come in the form of blowouts to Alabama and Texas A&M, respectively.
It would be irresponsible not to mention Auburn’s woes, as the Tigers have only matched Arkansas’ win total of one. But by most accounts, the state of Chizik’s program is light years ahead of what’s going on in Fayetteville – for now.
A loss to a team that has become the year’s biggest disappointment, and the powers that be on the Plains may not be able to produce any more reasons to keep the 2010 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year around. Auburn Director of Athletics Jay Jacobs has been steadfast in his backing of Chizik, but an AD can only take so much, especially when fans continue to call for the head coach’s job. If Auburn loses Saturday, and does so in ugly fashion, Jacobs will be receiving ‘Chizik hate mail’ by the truckload.
Auburn is currently a 9.5 point favorite according to the boys in Vegas, and fans are expecting/hoping to see the home team finally put together a four-quarter game, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
But should it be considered a do or die game for Auburn? Let’s not forget about the offensive weapons Arkansas possesses. Quarterback Tyler Wilson is still putting up gaudy numbers and his proven receiving unit can give any defense fits. Running back Knile Davis is as talented as any back in the conference and could be due for a breakout game.
The Auburn defense showed vast improvements in a close loss to then #2 LSU, and looked like it is starting to finally put things together on every level. It should be expected to give up plenty of yards, but cannot get into a shootout, especially with Auburn QB Kiehl Frazier’s struggles to pass the football when playing from behind.
Even with Auburn’s passing game playing hide-and-seek, the Tigers are expected to be able to move the ball at will on an Arkansas D that is giving up 40.6 ppg.
Fans of both programs have had ample negative points to make about their beleaguered universities. However, there is still a glimmer of hope in Auburn. This is exactly why Chizik has to come away with a win Saturday, or all hope could be lost.
The month of October is thought to be much more manageable for Auburn than September was, but it all starts with beating a dangerous team that also feels its back is against the wall.
Simply put, this is a game between two desperate teams. But this game is at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and Auburn optimists think the teams in question are heading in different directions, with Chizik’s Tigers on the upswing.
Whether the Tigers are actually heading in the right direction and can pick up a divisional win will go a very, very long way in telling the story of whether or not Gene Chizik will be on the Plains in 2013.