Saturday's game in Jordan-Hare Stadium will pit the SEC's worst defense, Arkansas, against the league's worst offense, Auburn. The Razorbacks (1-4, 0-2 SEC) and Tigers (1-3, 0-2 SEC) both have an opportunity to get something positive going.
"The greatest thing about sports is you get another chance to play. We're just going to try to chance this around, turn this around, and we've got to start with Auburn," Razorback defensive end Chris Smith said. "This team has already been through a lot of adversity, but you just can't think about that. I know it sounds like a broken record, but you've just got to move on."
Razorback head coach John L. Smith said Wednesday on his weekly radio show that starting tight end Chris Gragg (knee bruise) is still a week away and will not play against Auburn. Starting safety Eric Bennett (undisclosed injury) will play and starting cornerbacks Tevin Mitchel (Gallbladder surgery) and Kaelon Kelleybrew (above the shoulders injury) may play but have not been cleared as of yet.
"It's day-to-day. We'll see really on all those guys. It's just kind of day-to-day. Hopefully we'll see them on Saturday, but again we don't know yet," Razorback defensive coordinator Paul Haynes said following Wednesday's practice.
If Mitchel and Kelleybrew are out, that'll leave the Hogs with starting cornerbacks in true freshman Will Hines and redshirt freshman Davyon McKinney. Hines has started the last two games. He said they will not put a lot on the plate for the freshmen if they start.
"What do you think they're going to do? They're going to come in here and throw the ball around," Haynes said. "I would, too. I think we've got to prepare for the run. That's one thing we'll always do, but we know they're going to try to challenge us throwing deep."
Consistency with Rasner
The one consistent for Arkansas' secondary has been senior Ross Rasner, who lines up at STAR (hybrid safety/outside linebacker) in the 4-2-5 and at safety in other packages.
"He is probably the quarterback out there for us. He's the one that's always talking, he's the one that always gets us lined up," Haynes said. "You like to see him always in the mix, and that's kind of why we always put him out. That STAR is a very important position on this defense, and in years past it's always been one of our best football players at that position, and that's what I consider Ross."
Focusing on Frazier
Arkansas' secondary is barely hanging on after injuries to all four starters and is statistically the worst bunch out of 14 teams in the Southeastern Conference. Arkansas either matches up really well against AU starting quarterback Kiehl Frazier, averaging 136.5 passing yards per game to go with only two touchdowns compared to seven interceptions. He is a mobile quarterback, but that does not appear to be working well for him either as he has just 16 yards on 31 carries with no scores.
"Solid for what they want to do," Haynes said. "They've had some turnovers and things they don't like, but I think he's settling in a little bit with the offense and what they want him to do."
Tigers can run
Statistically, the Tigers' offense is the worst in the conference, ranking dead last in four out of the five major categories. While the Tigers have not been a great rushing team, they do average a notable 153.0 yards per game this season.
"The stats don't show it right now, but to me the heart of their offense is their running backs," Haynes said. "Anytime a team can run the football on you, they can be very effective. They're strong, they're fast. They're super-fast, plus they've got a couple of guys out on the edge that can go too. I think they're kind of trying to find themselves a little bit with the style of offense that they want to run.
When Auburn has had success this season, it has been on the ground either with senior Onterio McCalebb or sophomore Tre Mason. McCalebb has picked up 238 yards this season while averaging a solid 5.7 yards per carry. He has over 2,000 career rushing yards with 20 touchdowns. Mason experiences similar results with 275 yards and a 5.2 average.
Terrible at turnovers
Arkansas is the worst turnover team in the country. The Hogs rank 117th out of 120 teams in gained turnovers and are dead last in turnover margin. There have been opportunities to create turnovers, but there haven't been many.
"We're making turnovers in practice," Chris Smith said. "What you do in practice you're going to do in the game. That's one thing I like about what I saw this week. Speaking of, yesterday I ran to the ball and one of the DBs, I think it was McKinney, knocked the ball out. I picked the ball off."
The Tigers use a variety of personnel groups with various formations, according to Haynes. They can come at you with the power game or the spread under new coordinator Scot Loeffler, who replaced Gus Malzahn when he took the head coaching gig at Arkansas State.
A&M ran some Wildcat packages last weekend with backup true freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace, who had three carries for 15 yards against LSU on Sept. 22. Auburn also had a bye this past weekend so they have had extra time to prepare new wrinkles for the Razorbacks.
"I think we'll see it all," Haynes said. "They mix it in a little bit, kind of like with everything. They've got all types of personnel, and they're doing a lot of different formations with different personnel groups."
Seasons not the same
Auburn is just 1-3, but their 1-3 is a lot different than Arkansas' 1-4. Auburn has actually competed in their losses. Auburn was up 19-16 on No. 15 Clemson during the fourth quarter before losing 26-19 to open the season. Mississippi State won handily 28-10, but it is not as if Auburn got blown out. No. 4 LSU was down 10-9 before a field goal gave them a 12-10 win in the third quarter.
Auburn is competing. Arkansas is not. Auburn's only win came 31-28 over Sunbelt Conference opponent Louisiana-Monroe. Arkansas lost to ULM in overtime. After that, the Hogs were embarrassed 52-0 in Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium at the hands of Alabama. From there, the Hogs lost to Big East foe Rutgers and then went on the road and got spanked at Texas A&M 58-10.
Senior end Colton Miles-Nash came to Arkansas as a defensive end but soon moved to tight end. He moved back to defensive end the next season only to return to tight end for a few games and then move back to defensive end again. Lately he has seen work at defensive tackle and started at that position last weekend at Texas A&M. Miles-Nash said Wednesday he weighs 270 pounds.
"I'm just a football player. Wherever I need to play, that's where I'm playing," Miles-Nash said. "The team that we played last week, there was a need for me to go down and play D-tackle, and wherever I'm needed I'm going to do gown and play."
Linebacker Alonzo Highsmith has played MIKE the last two games after starting at WILL the first three. After that Hog coaches decided to move Tenarius Wright to play more end. Highsmith has been one of the few bright spots on defense.
"It's all the same time me. Linebacker is linebacker. I don't have a preference in what I play. Whatever they need me to play, I'll play," Highsmith said.
The Razorbacks are expected to wrap up Thursday's practice at approximately 4:30 p.m.