Arkansas football: 5 reasons Hogs will whip Auburn
By the time they kick it off on Saturday (11 a.m., local) it will be more than a month since Arkansas played a football game in Razorback Stadium. The Hogs are unbeaten there in 3 games this season and coach Sam Pittman is emphasizing that fact for motivational purposes after dropping a heartbreaking 52-51 slugfest in Oxford last Saturday.
The No. 17 Razorbacks (4-2, 1-2) host Auburn (4-2, 1-1) in a pivotal SEC matchup that opens the second half of the 2021 season and sets a course for each teams’ fortunes. Here are 5 reasons the Hogs will get the upper hand, come away with a victory, and snap a 2-game skid while sending the Tigers to their second consecutive loss.
1. Home-field advantage
As noted, the Hogs are 3-0 this season at Razorback Stadium. That includes a completely dominating 40-21 thrashing of former Southwest Conference and future Southeastern Conference rival Texas.
Auburn hasn’t played badly on the road this season under first-year head coach Bryan Harsin. The Tigers lost a 28-20 battle in Penn State’s White Out Game at Happy Valley, and beat LSU 24-19 in Tiger Stadium.
But Arkansas will heed the pleas of Pittman and defend its house. Pittman is angling for an undefeated home season and Auburn looks to pose the biggest threat with Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Mississippi State and Missouri left in order on the home slate.
2. Pass defense
It may not seem like it, especially given that Ole Miss was able to move up and down the field with particular ease in the second half, but believe it or not the Razorbacks rank 2nd in the SEC against the pass.
The 287 yards the Rebels totaled on Saturday notwithstanding, Arkansas allows the fewest passing yards per game in the conference outside of Georgia’s 137. But the Bulldogs are in a league by themselves when it comes to defense.
Arkansas is giving up an average of just 156 passing yards per game. Couple that with Auburn’s struggles at quarterback. Crazy legs Bo Nix is precariously hanging on to his starting role as LSU transfer TJ Finley itches to see playing time. The Tigers rank 6th in the conference in passing. They average 245.2 yards per game.
Auburn only has 8 TD passes this season. Among SEC teams, only Vanderbilt has fewer.
The Razorbacks keep Nix (and Finley?) in check Saturday and make him (them) uncomfortable in the pocket with solid secondary coverage and a more than adequate push up front.
3. Red-zone advantage
Now, of course, they have to get there first, but assuming the Razorbacks continue to stay familiar with the opponents’ 20-yard line and in, they should do very well in converting those into points against Auburn. The Tigers rank last in the SEC in keeping the opposition off the scoreboard once they reach the red zone. Auburn opponents have been nearly automatic inside the Tigers’ 20, scoring 94.74% of the time. Eleven of those trips resulted in a touchdown, too. Only 1 in 19 tries has Auburn’s opposition failed to put points on the board.
Arkansas is 5th in the SEC in getting to the opponents’ red zone, matriculating the ball down the field on 27 such occasions. Of those, the Hogs have converted 24 into points, including 17 touchdowns.
That should give the Razorbacks a sizable advantage on Saturday.
4. KJ Jefferson
He’s the Razorbacks’ X-factor. He can beat you with his feet or arm. He’s the only quarterback in the SEC, and 1 of only 6 in the FBS this season with 1,200-plus passing yards (1,235) and 300-plus (320) rushing yards.
He’s the leader of a team that ranks 1st in the conference and 2nd in the nation with 54 rushes of 10-plus yards, including 14 by Jefferson. And he’s part of the only trio in FBS this season with 300-plus rushing yards each. He’s joined in that group by Trelon Smith (387) and Raheim Sanders (324).
Jefferson will be the difference-maker Saturday. He’ll do it with his arm, his feet, or both.
5. Bumper Pool vs. Bo Nix
No, that’s not a parlor game; that’s Arkansas’ top tackler. The Hogs’ linebacker will not be denied. He leads the team with 61 tackles, including 4.5 for loss.
Not only can he plug up running lanes, but also defends the pass as well as any. He might even be asked to spy Bo Nix. He’ll keep the Auburn offense in check while the Razorbacks score enough points to come away with a victory.