In preparation for Saturday’s showdown between the Nicholls State Colonels and Arkansas Razorbacks, Saturday Down South is taking a look at the key matchups that may decide this weekend’s contest.

Arkansas secondary vs. Nicholls State passing attack

Over and over again, it seemed like the Arkansas secondary gave up big passing play after big passing play against Auburn last weekend.

The defensive backs allowed 302 passing yards, but they were largely beat by two receivers – Duke Williams and Melvin Ray – who combined for nine receptions, 231 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Moving forward, the Razorbacks face a considerably less talented offense with Nicholls State, but it’s important for the Razorbacks’ secondary to make improvements in this game before a critically important game against Texas Tech.

Specifically, the defensive backs need to show better reaction times and limit missed tackles. It seemed guys like Alan Turner and Rohan Gaines were always a step or two too slow when reacting to the Auburn offense and many of the big passing plays by Auburn could have been prevented by surer tackling. Press coverage lacked against the more physical receivers like Williams, allowing him to operate with way too much space in the open field.

Nicholls State’s quarterback Kalen Henderson and wide receiver Darryl Watson are two players the Hogs will need to focus on the most in their pass defense. Henderson returns from injury last season, but as a senior, he’s a proven and experienced leader for the Colonels. Watson isn’t as physically intimidating, standing at just 5-foot-10, 170-pounds, but he’ll be Henderson’s primary target on Saturday.

But let’s face it, the Colonels of Nicholls State should not provide much of a problem for Arkansas, depsite the deficiencies they showed in the secondary last week. It’s definitely a tune-up game for the Hogs, but the perfect opportunity to improve their weaknesses and get younger guys in the secondary game experience.

Despite the grave discrepancy in talent, the two teams do have some similarities.

“This will definitely prepare us for our Southland Conference games,” Nicholls State head coach Charlie Stubbs said this week. “It will be well worth it. We just have to handle it the right way.”

Much like Nicholls State, this game will be important for Arkansas as they move forward into their tougher non-conference games and the rest of their SEC schedule. Game reps for both veteran and younger players can never be overstated, especially against a team like Nicholls State that’s in the midst of a seven-game losing streak.

“The taste of a win is what we both want,” Bret Bielema said about the upcoming game against Nicholls State.

Arkansas hardly needs a perfect game to beat Nicholls State, but a near-perfect game will be expected from the Arkansas secondary and anything less just won’t cut it. Because right now, the secondary is the weakest link for the Hogs and if they expect to make strides as a team in 2014, then it’s games like these where the Hogs must take advantage and shore up the holes.

Nicholls State travels to Fayetteville, Arkansas this weekend to take on the Razorbacks as Bielema and his team attempt to break their 10-game losing streak.