5 Reasons Auburn Should Be Worried About Arkansas, Part 1


Nov 2, 2013; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Auburn Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn looks on during an extra point attempt in the first quarter against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

As we look ahead to the start of the 2014 football season, it is understandable for Auburn fans to be optimistic. The Tigers are coming off a dream season, including several magical victories, an historic turnaround, and were oh so close to a national championship.

Because of the success of 2013, it is easy to be confident heading into the season opener against an opponent that that was 3-9 last season, losing nine in a row including all eight conference games. However, there are five very important reasons that Auburn should be worried about Arkansas.

1. It’s the Season Opener

More from Auburn Football

Simply put, season openers are tough. Sure, we see plenty of 45-3 scores when Big School U plays Directional State College in week one, but remember that last year the Tigers struggled with a mediocre Washington State team and won just 31-24.

The Cougars went on to a bowl game, and play in the very competitive Pac-12, but looking back, the score should not have been so close – and probably wouldn’t have been had the teams met later in the season. The fact of the matter is that it’s a difficult task for any team to play a quality opponent right out of the gate.

And, yes, Arkansas is a quality opponent.

The Razorbacks improved down the stretch last season, starting with the 35-17 loss to the Tigers on November 2. From that point, the Hogs gave three bowl teams a run for their money. First, they lost by ten to Ole Miss. Then, it took overtime for Mississippi State to steal a victory in Little Rock. Finally, LSU was forced to drive 99 yards late in the fourth quarter with a backup quarterback for a come-from-behind win in the season finale.

Nov 9, 2013; Oxford, MS, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Brandon Allen (10) passes the ball during the game against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

However, what makes the Razorbacks a quality opponent more so than their near misses at the end of last season is that Arkansas is a member of the Southeastern Conference. True, they were 0-8 in conference play a year ago, but so was Auburn in 2012. And if last season taught us anything, with two unexpected Tiger teams making it to Atlanta, it’s that anything can happen in the SEC.

Plus, conference openers are even tougher than season openers. Remember the first of Auburn’s thrilling SEC wins last year – the 24-20 escape against Mississippi State?

But, most importantly, it’s the first game of the season. In week one, both teams are expected to be healthy and at full capacity. Actually – that’s not entirely true.

Auburn will be without its best pass rusher in Carl Lawson due to the serious knee injury he suffered this spring. Additionally, the Nick Marshall and Jonathon Mincy situations are still a little foggy. We know Lawson won’t be on the field August 30, and we don’t yet know for sure if Marshall or Mincy will either. One or both may be suspended for some or all of the game.

Furthermore, Arkansas has a new defensive coordinator. While Robb Smith is a good defensive football coach, his mere presence isn’t exactly cause for concern. What is concerning, however, is that Auburn’s offensive coaches must game plan for a new defensive system. Even worse, they can’t really plan for it.

What is concerning is that Auburn’s offensive coaches must game plan for a new defensive system. Even worse, they can’t really plan for it.

Sure, Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee know how they will attack the base 4-3 over front, under front, or some of the other looks the Hogs showed in their spring game. However, Auburn coaches do not know exactly how Smith will implement his new personnel once the bullets truly start flying.

And, Arkansas really did not tip their hand much this spring. Rumor has it that Smith wants to be much more aggressive than his predecessor, but he certainly didn’t show off any new and exotic blitzes for the cameras during the spring game.

Plus, while any defensive coordinator can mix things up from week to week, offensive coaches feel much more comfortable in their game plan if they have several games worth of film to break down leading into it.

The offensive coaches will look at last year’s film for personnel, but with a new man calling the shots, they can’t rely on it for any tendencies, fronts or blitzes. They can also look at film from Smith’s time at Rutgers, if they can get their hands on it, but a lot can change over the period of two years. Specifically, with a completely new set of players, in addition to time spent in the NFL since, it would be very difficult to predict how Smith will plan to stop Auburn.

Coaches hate walking into the season’s first game blind – which is exactly what the Auburn offensive coaching staff must do. And because it’s the season opener, Auburn should be worried about Arkansas.