This is a game that I figured was easy pickings for Auburn when I made my prediction for the print version of Hawgs Illustrated. But, that was at 2:45 a.m. Sunday morning, just a few hours after Arkansas had lost a six overtime heartbreaker to Tennessee. At that point in the night, I predicted it would be Auburn, 17-14. At this point, I'm not so sure. I probably would make a different prediction at this point in the week.
The thoughts of the way Ole Miss fell apart after it lost the seven OT game to the Hogs last year gave me some of my reasoning in the hours just after the UT loss. Also, I was thinking that Auburn had an open date while the Hogs were emptying their tank of energy with that comeback against Tennessee.
So one of the biggest keys in the game will be the mental makeup of the Hogs when they take the field early Saturday morning for that 11:30 a.m. Jefferson-Pilot game with Auburn's Tigers.
At this point in the week, after all practices have been completed, I have been surprised to learn that the Hogs think their emotional tank is back to full. They practiced well every day of the week, and actually had some bounce to their step, unlike last year when they were so tired after the game at Ole Miss.
"We have lots of energy," said Jermaine Brooks, the Hogs' defensive leader and team captain. "We were tired after the Ole Miss game. We weren't that tired this time. We're fine. We have more energy than we had last week and we are excited to get to play again."
Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said the entire Tennessee game wasn't so long, and the number of plays about 35 fewer than what the Hogs faced last year at Ole Miss. So, he seemed to agree with his captain that the Hogs weren't at a physical or mental disadvantage this week against Auburn.
Hence, the first key to the game seemed to be okay for the Hogs. They must be mentally sharp and able to play against a rested team. We'll see at game time, but that doesn't seem to be a problem late in the week after watching the Hogs practice.
The next big key for the game with Auburn will be turnovers. The Tigers have forced turnovers in big numbers and have taken advantage of the short field to score a lot of points against weaker opposition. The Hogs must take care of the ball, and that will be a big key. Arkansas also would like to force AU quarterback Daniel Cobb into turnovers. That was the big key last year when the Hogs dominated the fourth quarter thanks to plenty of Tiger turnovers. Auburn sustained six turnovers last year in the 42-17 loss to the Hogs.
Arkansas may not be able to stop Auburn tailback Carnell Williams, but it must at least slow him. He's shown a great ability to run through arm tackles and make people miss. The Hogs have had at least one game this year in which they tackled poorly, so they must be careful to gang tackle Williams, perhaps the SEC's best back.
It's not clear if Cedric Cobbs will be able to play against Auburn, but the Hogs should still have a large stable of running backs. Fred Talley and De'Arrius Howard are first in line, and must avoid turnovers against the Tigers.
How well the Arkansas receivers catch the ball is another key. They've had games this year where they played error-free football, but were less than stellar last week when many of Matt Jones' passes were dropped. They must do a better job of holding Jones' throws against the Tigers.
Offensively, another key for the Hogs will be the health and cohesiveness of the offensive line. Mark Bokermann is doubtful with an ankle sprain. Jerry Reith filled his spot last week and took almost every snap with the first team this week. It appears Dan Doughty will start at center, but he's gotten a strong push from Josh Melton in practice this week. At left guard, Scott Davenport and Nathan Ball continue to split time, with Ball also spelling hobbled Bo Lacy at left tackle. The Hogs must somehow patch together a solid offensive line and continue to protect Jones at quarterback and pound the Tigers' defensive line to provide room for the running backs. It's as big a key as any of the others mentioned so far.
The kicking game has been a target of much consternation this week after David Carlton replaced Brennan O'Donohoe as the placekicker. O'Donohoe missed three field goals against Tennessee. Carlton has had an entire week to think about his role in a hostile stadium. How he responds to that challenge will be another big key.
The were prepared to fight until the end against Tennessee, something that was obvious as the game progressed. If they are prepared in the same way this week, that is a big key. The Hogs' upperclassmen have provided great leadership throughout the last two weeks. How the Hogs respond to that leadership again this weekend will be another big key.
Keys to Victory: Auburn
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