In advance of this weekend’s season-opener, Saturday Down South’s Keith Chartrand breaks down the scouting report for Auburn’s showdown against SEC West foe Arkansas

Arkansas Razorbacks at Auburn Tigers
(4 PM ET, SEC Network)

THE SKINNY: The feud between Gus Malzahn and Bret Bielema has been turned down from boiling to simmer. Still, as Bielema said at SEC Media Days “they are not breaking bread’ with one another. The intensity of the season-opener for both teams is amped up a couple of notches with it being an SEC West divisional game. Both team are feeling real good about themselves. Auburn has new offensive weapons to use and a more experienced defense. Fayetteville is jumping with anticipation of what they hope is a breakout year for the Hogs. Malzahn has pulled out his gamesmanship card not saying when quarterback Nick Marshall and boundary corner Jonathan Mincy will enter the game. Bielema drawn up two different game plans for Marshall and starting quarterback Jeremy Johnson.

KEY PLAYER: Arkansas’ defensive end Trey Flowers – No. 86 – turned down NFL dollars and returned to Fayetteville. He has a chance to make an impression on NFL scouts against the defending SEC champs. Last year Flowers knocked it out of the park with 44 tackles, including 13.5 for loss with 5.0 sacks, three forced fumbles, one interception, two pass breakups and five quarterback hurries. The All-SEC Preseason First Team selection can will put his hand in the dirt on both sides of the line. Flowers could be a disruptive force to Auburn’s run and pass game. Auburn tackle Shon Coleman, in his first start, will have the pleasure of blocking Flowers when he lines up on the right side. Patrick Miller’s starting at left tackle.

WHAT TO WATCH: Depending on the weather, both Auburn quarterbacks will put the ball up in the air a lot. Johnson looked good against inferior talent last year. How he does against SEC competition remains to be seen. Auburn’s offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said Marshall passing improved drastically from January and spring camp and improved even more from spring camp to fall camp. There are talented receivers around them. Malzahn’s been banging the more-balanced drum for a while. We need to see an improved passing game. If it rains, expect the Tigers to run the ball like they did last year.

FINAL SAY: Auburn must start the game on the right foot. Scoring on their first possession with Johnson in is critical. If they don’t, Arkansas’ slow, deliberate ground attack could eat up a majority of the clock in the first quarter. Last year’s game was a lot closer than the 35-17 score indicated. The Tigers offensive weapons will be too much for the Hogs Saturday but, like last year, the game will be closer than expected.