Auburn Opponent Preview, Game 5: Arkansas

Auburn's fifth game of the football 2012 season will be against the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Part five in our series of previews of Auburn's 2012 football opponents features the Arkansas Razorbacks, who despite going 11-2 (6-2 SEC) last season finished quietly in third place in the SEC West taking a backseat to LSU and Alabama.

Since then the Razorbacks have received more attention than they wanted with the Bobby Petrino affair, which led to the firing of the highly-success head coach.

John L. Smith, an assistant on Petrino's staff, had taken the job as head coach at Weber State before accepting an offer to return to Fayetteville as the interim head coach of the Razorbacks. He was with the Arkansas team for its 38-14 victory over Auburn last season.

"In coming back to the university, I know we had a real good football team that possibly has the capabilities of being a great football team with a great senior class that could lead us," Smith said. "In coming back, I know we had great football coaches, all of which, with the exception of one, I've had the honor of working with in the past.

"In knowing that, in knowing that our administration is going to do everything possible to give us an opportunity to win, be successful. Then our fans, you know, Hog Nation, is as good as there is in the nation. Without a doubt the best place I've ever been as far as loyal people for the program so, all of those things being said, it was a definite great, great opportunity for me to come back to the University of Arkansas.

"As I came back after spring ball, the energy in the room, the energy around the players, has been exceptional," Smith said. "Our senior class is tremendous as far as their leading. I think they took a little adversity they had, they locked up, came together and said, 'We're going to be better because of it,' and that's what they've done. I think that has continued this summer.

"Our group has done a great job of saying, 'a little adversity is just going to make us stronger.' That's what they've done. They've had great energy, worked hard. Our players are doing a great job."

Although Petrino and his play-calling are gone, a key part of the high-powered Arkansas offense returns. Senior quarterback Tyler Wilson is arguably the best passer in the SEC. Against Auburn last year he threw for 262 yards and two touchdowns while completing 24-36 passes.

Knile Davis is expected for a big 2012 season after missing 2011 with an ankle injury.

The senior has three offensive line starters returning from a season ago, but is without wide receivers Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Jarius Wright, which could benefit Auburn this year. In 2011 the three combined for 169 yards on 15 catches against the Tigers. Cobi Hamilton is expected to lead the receiving corps in 2012. He made one catch for 22 yards against Auburn last year.

One big difference between last year's offense and this year's is the return of running back Knile Davis, who missed the entirety of last season due to an ankle injury suffered in August after being named first team All-SEC in 2010. Dennis Johnson, who will be back this fall as a senior, stepped in for Davis last year. He rushed for 48 yards on 12 carries in the Razorback's home win over Auburn.

Under Petrino the Razorbacks were much stronger offensively than on defense. Last year the Tigers racked up 291 yards on the ground in the loss at Fayetteville. Onterio McCalebb, who will be a senior this fall for the Tigers, gained 98 of those yards on 13 carries.

Kiehl Frazier added 54 rushing yards on 13 carries. He also contributed with his first two pass completions of the season, but his two other pass attempts were intercepted to turn a close game into a comfortable margin of victory for the home team.

Auburn will have an off week prior to playing the Razorbacks this year. That will give new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder extra time to have his players ready for the challenges offered by Wilson, Davis and the rest of the Arkansas offense.

Alonzo Highsmith is a key returner for the defense.

Key Players to Replace:Wide receiver Jarius Wright led the 2011 team with 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns on 66 receptions. Joe Adams caught 54 passes for 652 yards and three TDs. Chris Gragg caught 41 passes for 518 yards and two scores. Linebacker Jerry Franklin led the team last season with 101 tackles. He also had 10 tackles for a loss and two recovered fumbles. Safety Tramain Thomas led the 2011 team with five interceptions while recording 91 tackles.

All-Star Candidates:Quarterback Tyler Wilson (277-438 completions, 3,638 yards, 24 TDs, 6 INT); running back Knile Davis (2010--204 rushes, 1,322 yards, 13 TDs); wide receiver Cobi Hamilton (34 receptions, 542 yards, 4 TDs); tight end Chris Gragg (41 receptions, 518 yards, 2 TDs) linebacker Alonzo Highsmith (80 tackles, 12 1/2 TFL, 4 1/2 sacks); safety Eric Bennett (74 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 INT)

Series Results:Auburn leads 11-9-1

Arkansas' Schedule:

Sept. 1--Louisiana-Monroe at Arkansas
Sept. 8--Jacksonville State at Arkansas
Sept. 15--Alabama at Arkansas
Sept. 22--Rutgers at Arkansas
Sept. 29--Arkansas at Texas A&M
Oct. 6--Arkansas at Auburn
Oct. 13--Kentucky at Arkansas
Oct. 27--Ole Miss at Arkansas
Nov. 3--Tulsa at Arkansas
Nov. 10--Arkansas at South Carolina
Nov. 17--Arkansas at Mississippi State
Nov. 23--LSU at Arkansas

Key Games for Arkansas

Alabama at Arkansas--With Alabama's last visit to Fayetteville ending 22-20 in the Tide's favor combined with last year's 38-14 blowout to the Tide in Tuscaloosa, Arkansas needs a win to boost its confidence that it can win the SEC West. With this matchup coming early in the season, a victory over the defending national champions would show the Razorbacks are a serious contender in the division.

Chris Gragg is projected to be one of the SEC's best tight ends in 2012.

Arkansas at South Carolina-- With South Carolina expected to be in a battle to win the SEC East this should be a major test for the Razorbacks, especially with the Gamecocks featuring pass rushers Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney.

LSU at Arkansas--The Battle for the Golden Boot returns to Fayetteville for the first time since 1992. Arkansas will be looking for revenge after last season's 41-17 LSU victory got out of hand quickly after the Razorbacks took an early 14-0 lead. This contest could be for a berth in the SEC Championship Game.

Worth Noting: Auburn's 65-43 win over Arkansas in 2010 set a record for most combined points scored in a non-overtime SEC game. The 108 combined points is also more than were scored in the Tigers' 52-37 basketball win over the Razorbacks in 2003.

The Challenge For Auburn: The Tigers struggled with Wilson's passing a year ago and they will face the same threat again if the Razorbacks can adequately replace a strong group of wide receivers that were drafted by NFL?teams. With the road trip to Auburn being game six for the Razorbacks, Wilson should be in sync with his rebuilt receiver group that also has talent. Combine the senior quarterback's passing ability and poise with the running talents of Davis and it should be one of the toughest challenges of the season for the Auburn defense.

Game 4, LSU

Game 3, Louisiana-Monroe

Game 2, Mississippi State

Game 1, Clemson

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