Arkansas football: 3 keys and a prediction vs. Auburn
The Arkansas Razorbacks stopped the bleeding in Provo, Utah, breaking a 3-game skid by rolling up a season-high 52 points on BYU in their 17-point victory over the Cougars. After a bye week, the Hogs look to continue their winning ways on Saturday (11 a.m. CT), finishing up a 3-game road swing with a visit to Jordan-Hare Stadium and a meeting with Auburn.
The 4-3 Razorbacks scored 50-plus points on the road against a nonconference team for the 1st time since 1910, when they blanked Washington University, 50-0. But Auburn is a different animal. The 3-4 Tigers, who also had a bye week, are hangry because of 3 consecutive losses. They haven’t tasted victory since Sept. 24, a 17-14 win at home over Missouri.
Both teams enter the contest with 1-3 conference marks. Each team has lost its past 3 SEC contests.
Here’s a look at 3 keys to the game, and a prediction.
1. Keep the foot on the pedal
All indications are that this will be a high-scoring shootout, so the Razorbacks must push the ball down the field on every possession. Quarterback KJ Jefferson threw for a career-high 5 touchdowns in his last outing against BYU. He was the first Arkansas QB to throw for 5-plus TDs since Brandon Allen tossed a school-record 7 in a 2015 game against Mississippi State.
It will take a similar effort Saturday to subdue the home team. That would require big games as well from WRs Jadon Haselwood and Matt Landers, among others. Haselwood has caught passes in 19 consecutive games, dating back to last year with Oklahoma, and Landers caught 3 TD passes in the victory over BYU. He’s the first Arkansas receiver with 3 TD catches in a game since Drew Morgan did it in a 2015 game against Ole Miss.
But it’s Arkansas’ rushing attack, 2nd in the SEC with 240 yards per game, that will determine the outcome. Running back Rocket Sanders is coming off a career-high 175 yards against BYU, including a career-long 64-yard TD run. The SEC’s leading rusher with 870 yards, Sanders recorded his 5th 100-yard game this season.
As a team, Arkansas has a program-record 8 consecutive games with a 100-yard rusher, dating back to last season.
The Razorbacks have had their difficulties tackling this season, which has allowed the opposition far too many big plays. Arkansas ranks last in the SEC and 129th (out of 131) in FBS in giving up plays of 30-plus yards (27) and 125th nationally in opposing plays of 20-plus yards (44). It is also 121st in FBS with 12 plays of 40-plus yards allowed.
3. Compete for 60 minutes
Auburn may not have the best record in the SEC, but nobody fights for 60 minutes like the Tigers. Regardless of the score or how the game has gone, you have to hand it to Auburn — there’s no quit in that team.
So Arkansas, which has a tendency to lapse a bit defensively toward the ends of games, must maintain focus and desire for all 60 minutes.
Prediction: Arkansas 38, Auburn 35
On paper, this game has all the makings of a wild one. Arkansas, a 3.5-point favorite, will move the ball and score points. Since the arrival of head coach Sam Pittman, the Razorbacks have piled up 400-plus yards in 21 of 30 games. In Jefferson’s 21 career starts, Arkansas has scored 30-plus points in 13.
If it comes down to it, Arkansas kicker Cam Little is reliable. He is a perfect 5-for-5 this season on field goals inside 40 yards.
Auburn mounted an offense in its most recent game, a 48-34 loss to Ole Miss. The Tigers had not scored more than 24 points in a game since the season opener, a 42-16 victory over Mercer.
So get the popcorn ready and prepare for a good old-fashioned shootout at high noon (Eastern time) on the Plains.