Home Not So Sweet Home

FAYETTEVILLE — Over the past few days, Auburn offensive tackle Lee Ziemba has heard from some of his old friends in Rogers whom he hasn't spoken to in awhile.

They can't wait to see him today.

"I haven't seen these people in a really long time," said Ziemba, a Rogers High graduate. "It feels like I've been at Auburn for forever now."

For the past week, Auburn quarterback/wide receiver Kodi Burns has tried to secure enough tickets for all his friends and family members in Fort Smith to attend today's game in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. He figured he needed at least 30 tickets, but it could be closer to 40.

"It's always fun to go home and play in front of your home crowd and people that have seen me grow up playing in the state of Arkansas," Burns said.

It's also a homecoming for backup linebacker Adam Herring, the son of former Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring and a Shiloh Christian grad.

But today amounts to more than a homecoming for just those Auburn coaches and players who left Arkansas a few years ago for The Plains of Alabama. In a sense, it's also homecoming for the Hogs.

After consecutive road games, Arkansas (2-2, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) returns to Reynolds Razorback Stadium to face No. 17 Auburn (5-0, 2-0) at 11 a.m. today on ESPN.

As strange as it might sound, though, the stadium hasn't provided the Hogs with much of a home-field advantage when it comes to recent SEC games.

Bobby Petrino, in his second year as Arkansas' coach, is still waiting for his first SEC win in Fayetteville. He's 0-4 in conference games played in Reynolds Razorback Stadium, including a 52-41 loss to Georgia on Sept. 19 that took his players some time to get over.

"It hasn't been good at all, so it's something we're working extremely hard on," Petrino said of his poor SEC record at home. "You have to win your home games to have a chance in this league, so we've got to find a way to get a win."

With road games at top-ranked Florida and No. 20 Ole Miss coming up on the schedule, it's critical that the Hogs end their recent home drought. Auburn, meanwhile, will be looking for its fourth consecutive win in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

"Like coach (Petrino) said, it is important to win all the home games. Now you can't do nothing about that (Georgia) won you lost," Arkansas cornerback Ramon Broadway said. "Now it's time for you to win every last one of them you have at home."

The Razorbacks lost all three SEC games played in Fayetteville in 2008, and as a result, they finished 5-7 and failed to become bowl eligible in Petrino's first season at the helm. Their only conference win at home came in a memorable 31-30 victory over LSU in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium.

Arkansas' last SEC win in Fayetteville came when two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up Darren McFadden rushed for a career-high 321 yards to propel the Razorbacks to a 48-36 win over South Carolina on Nov. 3, 2007.

"We all know how hard it is to win on the road in this league," Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette said. "So winning at home, you have to take advantage of the positive atmosphere and you have to get those ‘Ws.'"

To accomplish that goal, Arkansas' defense must find a way to counter Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, the former Shiloh and Springdale High coach who'll be making his much-anticipated return to Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Malzahn made his first trip back to Fayetteville last November as Tulsa's co-offensive coordinator, losing 30-23 to spoil his homecoming. This time, he brings with him perhaps an even more potent offense.

The Tigers' new-look offense has helped Auburn become one of college football's biggest surprises so far, ranking fifth in the nation in scoring offense (41.4 points per game), rushing offense (253.8 yards per game) and total offense (512.8 ypg.).

Malzahn said he expected his second trip back to Fayetteville to be less stressful than a year ago when friends inundated him with ticket requests and reporters asked him what kind of reception he expected.

"There were distractions — the friends and the family and the tickets and everything that goes with that," said Malzahn, who served as Arkansas' offensive cooridnator in 2006. "There's a lot to that, so I'd like to think that part of it is different (this time around)."

But homecomings aren't always easy. Just ask Arkansas.

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