When Auburn Runs
Cam Newton and Auburn are the #1 rushing offense in the SEC and rank 8th nationally with a 5.86 yards per carry average (ypc). And while much is made of Newton’s efficiency as a passer, this is where Auburn’s offense earns it’s pay, rushing for 276 yards and 2.5 TDs each game. In the Tigers’ single game against a ranked SEC team this season, they rushed for 335 yards and three TDs against South Carolina. FYI – those are the only TDs the Gamecocks defense has allowed on the ground all season. These guys can flat out run the ball.
Arkansas is respectably ranked as the 43rd rush defense nationally, allowing 3.47 ypc and five rushing TDs in five games this season. In comparison, the South Carolina defense that Auburn shredded is ranked 23rd and allows a similar 3.31 ypc. The last time Arkansas faced a top-notch SEC rushing attack, Alabama (29th in rushing nationally), the Hog defense basically held the Tide to its 5.56 average ypc. Those who watched can tell you that they did a decent job keeping the Bama runners in front of them for most of the day, but were really hurt by allowing a handful of long runs.
When Auburn Passes
While Auburn’s passing game is constantly regarded as very efficient thanks to the high passer rating of Cam Newton, it’s far from explosive and falls in the middle of the pack nationally, ranked 69th. Certainly this is at least partially a by-product of Auburn choosing to rely on its ground game, but when Penn State’s laughable offense is ranked ahead of you in anything, that thing is not what I would consider very special. Predictably though, the Auburn pass attack has been much better at home than on the road where Newton has averaged more interceptions than TDs this season. At home Newton has a 5-1 TD to INT ratio and a 68% completion rate. Against South Carolina, Newton was basically picture-perfect on 21 passing attempts, completing 16 for 158 yards, two TDs and no INTs. It’s definitely worth noting though, that South Carolina is surprisingly ranked 103 in passing defense. Out of 120 teams, it’s safe to say that is a terrible pass defense.
Arkansas has been very good against the pass this season. The Hogs rank 19th nationally and 3rd in the SEC, allowing a mere 6.6 yards per pass attempt, 167 yards total per game and only four TDs to go along with five INTs. Four of the Razorbacks’ five opponents to date rank in the Top 50 nationally in passing offense, well above Auburn. Auburn has only faced one Top 40 pass defense this season – Kentucky. The Wildcats held Newton without a passing TD and picked him off once. This is the strength of the Arkansas defense to this point in the season (crazy, huh?) and the lesser of two strengths for the Auburn offense.
When Arkansas Runs
The much maligned Arkansas running game ranks only 96th nationally and has been good for 108 yards per game, but a surprisingly decent 3.94 ypc. Like Auburn’s passing offense, this ranking is likely skewed a bit by Arkansas’ reasonable reliance on Ryan Mallet and the passing game. Last week, against what is the 7th best rushing defense in the nation in Texas A&M (2.57 ypc), the Hogs ran for 132 yards and 3.7 yards per carry. Given the stiffness of the competition, that is actually a pretty encouraging development coming out of the bye week. Specifically, Knile Davis, who showed some flashes before the bye against Alabama, cruised to 82 yards on only 10 carries against the Aggies. If he isn’t given the bulk of the carries over Broderick Green at this point, he never will.
Auburn is very good against the run, ranking 14th nationally and giving up a paltry 2.8 ypc and 96 yards per game. Sure, they’ve only faced one Top 25 rushing offense (Mississippi St.), however it is fair to point out that Arkansas State (#72) and Louisiana-Monroe (#108), who are ranked in the same vicinity as Arkansas, were held to 1.2 yards per carry by Auburn. But let’s be serious, Arkansas’ personnel will match up much better with Auburn’s front seven than those teams could have. Also, last week the Hogs ran for a whole yard per carry better than what Texas A&M – a more highly ranked run defense – has allowed on the season.
When Arkansas Passes
This is where things begin to look very good for the Razorbacks, who average 354 yards through the air and nearly three passing TDs per game – good for 3rd nationally in passing offense. The Hogs also average an elite 9.7 yards per pass attempt. That is per pass ATTEMPT, not completion. And while the Hogs have yet to face a truly elite pass defense in 2010, when you are one of the best in the nation at something offensively, its pretty common for the defenses you face to subsequently rank poorly in defending whatever that something is.
Auburn’s pass defense is completely terrible. They rank in the bottom quartile of the county at 91, and allow a 65% completion rate to opposing signal-callers. Arkansas’ last three opponents are ranked well ahead of Auburn in this category. South Carolina, despite losing at Auburn, threw for more than two yards above their 9.0 average yards per pass attempt and tossed 1/3 of their passing TDs this season (3) against the Tigers defense. Star wideout Alshon Jeffery had by far a season high 192 yards receiving and two TDs.
Edge: Arkansas (like, by a lot)
Bobby Petrino is 2-0 against Auburn since becoming the Head Coach of the Razorbacks and the Hogs have won three of the last four in the series. Auburn’s only win in that time was a 9-7 thriller at home in 2007 against a Casey Dick led Hogs team. Hogs defensive coordinator Willy Robinson is also 2-0 against Gus Malzahn as an offensive coordinator, holding Gus’ offenses to 23 points in both wins – one while Gus was with Tulsa in 2008, and one last season, Gus’ first as Auburn’s offensive coordinator. Arkansas also had the pleasure of playing Texas A&M’s Jerrod Johnson last week, who plays the game very similarly to Cam Newton. While Newton is no doubt the better player of the two, this should at least be a small bonus in terms of preparation.
This will be a great game. Both teams are pretty evenly matched and surely know what’s at stake. However, the major edge Arkansas has while passing, the recent signs of life from the Razorback run game, and the recent history in this series will provide just enough to overcome Auburn’s home-field advantage. Prediction: Arkansas 31 – 27.
– Warzecha –