Another Big Win Over Auburn Needed

FAYETTEVILLE -- The sight of Arkansas coach Houston Nutt climbing into the stands while his players celebrated on Pat Dye Field was one of the more memorable moments from last season.

Everything changed last October when the unranked Razorbacks traveled to then-No. 2 Auburn and pulled off one of the more convincing upsets in recent memory.

With its surprising 27-10 win, Arkansas claimed sole possession of first place in the Southeastern Conference's western division, earned its first national ranking in three years and gained the confidence needed to put together one of the best seasons in school history.

"Last year, that win came out of nowhere and it propelled this team to a different level of confidence and pride," Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring said. "That set the tone last year."

Arkansas' players are in desperate need of another emotional win over No. 22 Auburn. But when they take the field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium at 6:45 p.m. tonight (ESPN), the stakes will be considerably different than they were at this time a year ago.

Rather than trying to stay atop the SEC West, the Razorbacks (3-2, 0-2) will attempt to avoid falling into a deep 0-3 hole in conference play.

Should that happen, any hope Arkansas might still have of returning to Atlanta to play in the SEC Championship Game would almost certainly be squashed. The calls for Nutt's job would certainly get louder, as well.

In essence, if the Razorbacks hope to jump-start a season that has so far gotten off to a slow start, tonight might be one of their last chances.

"It's very important," Arkansas running back Darren McFadden said of tonight's game. "We're 0-2 in the SEC, so we need to get this SEC win under our belt.

"I feel like this could really help us out and build a lot of confidence in our team."

The importance of tonight's game against Auburn (4-2, 2-1 SEC) has not been lost on anyone.

"To me, there is always a sense of urgency anytime you're in the SEC. The one thing: You cannot do anything about the first two (SEC losses)," Nutt said. "It's the next game, and it's the most important game on your schedule."

A few factors, however, are working against the Razorbacks in tonight's critical SEC matchup. For starters, McFadden has been bothered by bruised ribs this week.

The Heisman Trophy candidate will play tonight, but it remains to be seen how effective he will be running against Auburn's stingy defense.

At the same time, the Tigers have made up for their own slow start to the season with consecutive wins over then-No. 3 Florida and Vanderbilt. Naturally, their confidence is high.

The Razorbacks, meanwhile, looked sloppy against Tennessee-Chattanooga last Saturday, and they needed to rally to hold and beat the Football Championship Subdivision team, 34-15.

"I think that (game) helped us, just to show us what we need to work on more at practice," Arkansas cornerback Michael Grant said.

Arkansas' coaches will admit that this year's team is significantly different than the one that went to Auburn and dominated the line of scrimmage.

Starting quarterback Casey Dick watched last October's upset from the sidelines. Wide receiver Marcus Monk, who had a critical 50-yard touchdown catch in the win, is not expected to play tonight because of a knee injury.

And Arkansas' defense has gone through significant changes since surrendering only 213 yards of total offense to Auburn on Oct. 7, 2006.

But could a win over the Tigers tonight have the same effect on the Razorbacks as it did a year ago?

"The one thing I've learned in coaching is don't rely on history to repeat itself," Herring said. "You have to go make it happen."

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