Arkansas vs. No. 2 Auburn

Arkansas (3-1, 2-0) tries to take the SEC West lead away from No. 2 Auburn (5-0, 3-0) in Saturday's 11 a.m. showdown that will be nationally televised by CBS.

For 15 minutes, every break went Auburn's way, including the fourth-and-6 and the third-and-21. Even the onside kick worked.



It was that one-sided, and there was nothing that South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier could do but stand on the sidelines and watch.

Auburn held the ball for the entire third quarter of its 24-17 win at South Carolina on Sept. 28. Not most of the quarter or all but a few snaps.

No, the second-ranked Tigers ran 29 plays to the Gamecocks' zero.

"The third quarter, we had the ball the whole time. I've never seen that before," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "We controlled it. We controlled their defense pretty much."

Arkansas could use a few quarters like that.

Heading into today's critical Southeastern Conference game at Auburn (5-0, 3-0 SEC), Arkansas ranks last in the nation in time of possession. The Razorbacks are holding the ball an average of 24 minutes and 26 seconds a game, one minute and 37 seconds less than Purdue — the next closest team in the same category.

"We've always been pretty good with time of possession, so this is new territory for us," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "We've just got to execute, we've got to take care of the ball (and) don't have turnovers. Defense also plays a role in that, too. But we've got to do a better job staying on the field."

Through four games, Arkansas has held the ball a total of 97 minutes and 44 seconds.

Time of possession is a statistic that's usually a good indicator of whether a team will win a game or not. If a team can hold the ball for long stretches, it allows the defense to rest as the offense marches downfield for a score.

But time of possession isn't the biggest factor.

Despite its offensive struggles, Arkansas is 3-1 and off to its first 2-0 start in the SEC since Nutt's first season in 1998. The Razorbacks could claim sole possession of first place in the SEC West with a win over the Tigers at 11 a.m. today at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

But to do so, Arkansas will likely need to stay on the field longer than the length of a TV sitcom — minus the commercial breaks.

"It's been frustrating, but that's what we've got to find a way to do," Arkansas offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. "We've got to find a way to score more points or have a better time of possession, either one or both."

Some high-powered offenses don't need much time to score. Last year, Southern California needed just 92 seconds to score 28 points in the first quarter of a 70-17 win over Arkansas.

Generally, though, that's not how the Razorbacks work. Aside from a pair of scoring drives that lasted less than a minute each against Utah State, Arkansas' offense has needed a few minutes this season to go the length of the field.

But penalties, a lack of execution and 10 turnovers have contributed to the offense not being on the field as much as Nutt and Malzahn would like.

"We're going to have to take care of the ball. We have to stay out on the field," Arkansas running backs coach Danny Nutt said. "Houston has really been preaching hard to us this week on doing that. And we're going to try our best to do it."

In contrast, opponents are holding the ball an average of 10 minutes and 34 seconds longer a game than Arkansas this season.

The Razorbacks spent last week's open week trying to fix the offensive problems, and coaches have stressed in practice this week the importance of winning the time of possession against Auburn.

The question is, however, will it happen?

"You've got to find the balance there to score as much as you can while keeping the ball. And that's something we've struggled with," Arkansas quarterback Mitch Mustain said. "I think we'll eventually find it. Hopefully, this week."

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