Can Arkansas do to Auburn what it did in its last game against South Carolina, pull a shocker of an upset? Can the Hogs find a way to do what Florida couldn't ... move consistently on Auburn's tough defense? What will it take for Arkansas to knock off No. 17 Auburn?
Here's what Hawgs Illustrated Publisher Clay Henry thinks will have to happen for Arkansas to pull an upset this weekend in Fayetteville in his weekly feature, Keys to Victory:
Auburn was supposed to struggle in its attempt to defend its SEC Western Division crown because it lost too many players on offense, including quarterback Ben Leard and tailback Rudi Johnson. Those were the key components for the Tigers when they knocked off the Hogs in Auburn.
It is that game last year at Auburn which provides one of the keys to how Arkansas will gain the momentum to score a victory over the Tigers this time in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
If you'll think back to last year, it was the Auburn game in which the Hogs began to find the physical power to compete in the SEC West. Until the Auburn game, the Hogs had not won many battles up front. They hung against a tough Auburn team, playing a smashmouth brand of football that almost gave the Hogs a victory. If they had been able to field a healthy quarterback in the fourth quarter, Arkansas probably would have won.
Two late interceptions thrown by Zak Clark doomed the Hogs despite some fierce hitting by their defense in a game that was just as much Arkansas' as it was Auburn's going down the stretch thanks to some long-distance jaunts by tailback Fred Talley.
The good news for the Hogs this time is that they are nearly full strength. It appears tailback Cedric Cobbs is healthy for the first time since the SEC opener when he was used just one carry versus Alabama. Cobbs has been superb in practice the last two weeks, and looked like his old self this week.
The Hogs' offensive line has done nothing but improve since Shawn Andrews was moved to tackle, Mark Bokermann shifted to guard and Kenny Sandlin was inserted at center. This could be the week the Hogs find a full-fledged running game. It couldn't happen at a better time.
So, our first big key will be for the Hogs to find a big-time ground game against Auburn's tough eight-man front. The Tigers shot holes in Florida's ground game two weeks ago in pulling off a 23-20 upset. The Gators were held for a minus 36 yards running in that game. The Hogs need to move the chains some on the ground. If they can total somewhere in the 150-yard range in rushing yards ... and that's a positive 150 ... then they'll have a solid chance at victory.
Another key will be the play of the Hogs' new offensive threats, Cobbs and tight end Jason Peters.
Cobbs appears healthy. It would be a huge boost if he can give starting tailback Talley some legitimate rest and even cause the Arkansas brain trust to rethink its strategy of giving Talley 30-plus carries. If the Hogs can run it 35 times and those carries are split evenly between Talley and Cobbs, it bodes well for the ground game.
The Hogs need some productive play from Peters at tight end. The 6-5, 311-pound redshirt freshman was moved to tight end fulltime two weeks ago. He's been solid in practice since the South Carolina game, and is now ready to get some snaps with the offense. He's displayed impressive hands, with an ability to catch the ball away from his body. Coaches say Peters has a few plays mastered, and will be used against Auburn. His size and speed give the Hogs a weapon that few SEC teams can match. It would be a big boost if he can help the Hogs with 15-20 productive plays against Auburn. It might change the way Auburn plays its defense, and loosen things for the Arkansas running game.
Offensively, it's hard to predict how the Hogs will attack the Tigers' eight-man front. Will they go with Zak Clark at quarterback? Or, will they sprinkle in a heavy dose of Matt Jones at quarterback, the way they did in the second half against South Carolina?
Most expect more of Jones, not less. He's worked at both quarterback and wide receiver the last two weeks, in an almost even split. The personal view holds that if the Hogs stay close, or lead, Jones will play a lot of quarterback. However, if the Hogs fall behind, Clark (or Ryan Sorahan) will be the primary quarterback with Jones playing a lot as a wide receiver.
Will the Hogs remain conservative the way they played against Tennessee and South Carolina? Or will they throw a few more passes, like they did against Georgia and Tennessee?
Again, the personal guess would be that the game will dictate. If the Arkansas defense has an upper hand, it might be that the conservative offensive plan holds true. But, the Hogs will probably still try to hit the Tigers with some deep passes. That was the plan against South Carolina, and it almost worked. In fact, those near misses from Clark might have had something to do with the lack of blitzes offerred by South Carolina's defenses throughout the game. Still, the Hogs need to hit a home run to keep the Tigers off balance on defense. They have shown hints of the multiple blitzes drawn up by Arkansas defensive coordinator John Thompson.
Defensively, the Hogs will have to be on their toes. Auburn will operate from more formations than any team they have seen this year. They have the ability to throw the ball with Daniel Cobb at quarterback, the likely starter. However, Cobb has been prone to throw interceptions.
A huge key will be whether the Hogs can squeeze some turnovers out of the Auburn offense. The Tigers have been anything but antiseptic this year, but have survived some turnovers with their great defense and a superior kicking game with Damon Duvall. If the Hogs can win the turnover battle, and limite their penalties, they have a decent chance at winning.
The special teams battles will be key, too. Duvall's punting and placekicking make him the likely choice for All-SEC in both categories. However, the Hogs have gotten a stalemate in the special teams in almost every game. With Richie Butler, Brennan O'Donohoe, Marvin Jackson, Lawrence Richardson and Batman Carroll (as a cover demon), the Hogs might get that stalemate against the Tigers. If they can manage some big plays in special teams, they have a shot an upset.
Another huge key will be the homefield advantage. The Hogs want their crowd to be special on what promises to be a sparkling, bluebird day in the Ozarks. The forecast for the 11:30 a.m. kickoff is good. It's been hard to gauge what Reynolds Razorback Stadium, expanded to over 72,000 seats, will be like on a good day. It was stormy for the opener against Tennessee, and no one was interested in the only other game played there this year, a boring game with Weber State on what was scheduled to be an open date.
The crowd was out of this world in the South Carolina game. If it is even close to that this weekend, it would be a big boost to the Hogs' chances at another upset.
If you've got any more keys to victory, post them on the HI.com Insiders Board.