Position-by-position edge: Auburn at Arkansas
Taking a position-by-position look at Auburn at Arkansas, here’s who has the edge in Saturday’s showdown between the Tigers and Razorbacks:
QUARTERBACK — Arkansas: If not for his struggles in clutch situations, Arkansas’ Brandon Allen might be flirting with all-conference status. The senior ranks third in the SEC in passing yards per game (256.0) and passer rating (151.46) and is second in passing yards per attempt. But his struggles in key situations are part of the reason the Hogs rank near the bottom of the league in red zone conversions.
Auburn’s Sean White is showing improvement as he heads into his fourth start. He had his best showing yet in last week’s win over Kentucky, completing 17 of 27 passes for 255 yards.
RUNNING BACKS — Push: Arkansas’ running back corps has been beset with injuries, but still has junior Alex Collins to lean on. The Hogs have played all season without 1,000-yard rusher Jonathan Williams, who is out for the year with a foot injury. Kody Walker, a short-yardage specialist and part-time fullback also has missed significant time. Collins remains effective, though, ranking fourth in the SEC with 113 rushing yards per game — just 5 yards ahead of Auburn’s Peyton Barber.
Barber has rushed for at least 90 yards all but once so far and has scored seven touchdowns in the Tigers’ past two games. Sophomore Roc Thomas and freshman Kerryon Johnson provide quality depth in the Auburn backfield.
WIDE RECEIVERS, TIGHT END — Arkansas: Neither team will be playing with the group of wideouts they envisioned in the preseason. Auburn parted ways with troubled standout D’haquille Williams last week, while Arkansas has been playing without three of its top four receivers because of injuries.
Ricardo Louis leads the Tigers in both receptions and yards by a wide margin, including seven catches for 154 yards against Kentucky last week. No other receiver on the team has more than nine receptions.
Drew Morgan has emerged as Arkansas’ go-to weapon in the passing attack and had back-to-back games with more than 100 yards before being limited to 15 yards on four catches against Alabama. The Hogs’ tight end group is what gives the Hogs the edge here. Hunter Henry is a future NFL draft pick, and Jeremy Sprinkle is a big, fast target who can pose matchup problems for opposing defenses.
OFFENSIVE LINE — Arkansas: The Razorbacks’ offensive front was seemingly finding a groove, but couldn’t budge Alabama in a 27-14 loss. Prior to that game, the Hogs were averaging 250 yards per game on the ground in their last three contests. They’ve also protected Allen well, giving up the fewest sacks in the SEC this season (5).
Auburn’s early-season struggles on offense aren’t necessarily a reflection of its offensive line. The Tigers’ production on the ground has been more consistent in recent weeks, and the offense has been more efficient overall since White took the reins at quarterback. Auburn quarterbacks have been sacked 10 times this season, but only once in the past two games.
DEFENSIVE LINE — Arkansas: Both groups have their weaknesses, but Auburn is missing Carl Lawson’s presence badly. While Arkansas’ front four has failed to generate a pass rush for most of the season, they’ve played the run well. The Hogs rank third in the SEC in rushing yards allowed per game and held Alabama to less than 3 yards per carry.
Auburn has been moderately better at achieving pressure, but is giving up nearly 200 yards per game on the ground, ranking 13th in the conference.
LINEBACKERS — Auburn: Though they haven’t quite lived up to expectations so far this season, Auburn’s veteran linebackers Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy have proven talent. Frost is second on the team with 54 tackles and McKinzy ranks third and also has six tackles for loss, three sacks and six quarterback hurries.
Meanwhile, Arkansas has the steady-if-not-spectacular Brooks Ellis anchoring an otherwise inexperienced linebacker corps. True freshman Dre Greenlaw has ascended the depth chart to earn a starting role in recent weeks.
SECONDARY — Auburn: Neither team has been especially nasty against the pass, and Arkansas has been repeatedly gouged by opposing quarterbacks this season. Even in games when the Hogs have defended the pass well, it seems they’ve been beaten over the top for a back-breaker. Some of that ineffectiveness is due to the utter lack of a pass rush — Arkansas ranks last in the conference with just six sacks — but the Hogs’ defensive backs also have failed to build on the improvement they showed at the end of last season.
Auburn hasn’t been stellar against the pass either, but their numbers look strong in comparison. Jonathan Ford is the standout in the secondary, and is leading the team in tackles for the second straight year after posting 93 last season. True freshman Carlton Davis is also emerging as a playmaker and leads the team with two interceptions.