"He is still striving to get better with each practice, the whole nine yards with that, but you can tell there is probably going to be a little more emotion into this game," junior tight end/H-back C.J. Uzomah said about Malzahn's focus for this week's game.
Auburn's head coach is trying to downplay the going home angle to his return to Fayetteville, where he coached the Razorbacks for one season as offensive coordinator in addition to having major success as a high school head coach.
Malzahn put his Tigers through a two-hour workout in full pads on a beautiful Tuesday evening as his team looks for a fifth straight victory since losing at LSU. In contrast the Razorbacks will come into Saturday's 5 p.m. kickoff at Reynolds Razorback Stadium trying to end a five-game losing streak.
At his weekly press conference Malzahn was asked about returning to the Arkansas campus to coach against the Razorbacks and he said, "This will be the fourth time that I've done that. The first time or two it was definitely different, but I don't expect it to be any different than a normal game on the road."
Auburn's first-year head coach, who has his team ranked eighth nationally this week in the AP Top 25 and ninth in the Fox Sports Top 30, added, "Right now with where we are going each week, we are trying to do everything in our power to win and it doesn't make any difference if we are going to Arkansas or going to (Texas) A&M or anywhere else. There is enough to it without anything else added to it."
Uzomah, who caught a pair of passes vs. FAU last Saturday night, said, "As players we're going to try our hardest to give everything we have for this game. We know how much it means to him to be back in his home state and to get a win there. We're going to prepare harder than we've ever prepared and try to get this victory."
The Tigers, who are 7-1 overall and 3-1 in the league, control their own destiny to earn a spot in the SEC Championship Game. If the Tigers win out vs. Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, they will play in the title game regardless of what any other teams do. Auburn is 1-1 on the road this season with a 35-21 loss at LSU and a 45-41 win at Texas A&M.
One of the major reasons for Auburn's success heading into the game vs. Arkansas (3-5 overall, 0-4 SEC), is the play of the offensive line. Auburn is leading the league in rushing at 315.4 yards per game.
One of the players who has had a role in making that happen, junior right guard Chad Slade, said the line is looking to get even better. "It feels good to know we are leading the league, but we have got to keep improving and keep getting better," he said. "We can do so much more. We are not going pat ourselves on the back right now."
Chad Slade (62) celebrates with C.J. Uzomah on the tight end's biggest catch of the season, the game-winning TD in Auburn's SEC opener vs. Mississippi State.
Patrick Miller started next to Slade at right tackle in the first five games before being suspended for a violation of team rules. Miller did not suit up for the previous three games, but is expected to be available this week where Avery Young has been the starter.
"Playing next to both of them, they are both competitive guys," Slade said of Young and Miller. "I know with Pat coming back he wants to win that starting spot. Avery has to keep it. It's going to be a good competition out at practice. I know both of them are going to get after it. It's going to be very intense between those two.
"When it comes down to the end of the day, Coach (J.B. Grimes) is going to pick the right person," Slade added. "It's going to be a competitive thing between both of them."
Young opened the 2012 season as the starter for games one through three before being lost for the rest of the season when Miller took over the starting assignment. Both were true freshmen last year.
Young missed spring training this year after having shoulder injury. Slade said the redshirt freshman has performed well during his comeback. ‘He has done pretty good actually. He had to get over the injury from last year, but pretty much he's come back and he's got that role down.
"I believe he's getting better each and every day and each and every game," Slade added. "He has come out there with the mentality to get better. He is a person I can depend on next to me. I believe, as the season goes along, he's going to keep improving each and every day and each and every practice. I believe he's going to be a good player for us this year and is going to help us a lot."
Auburn goes into the Arkansas game converting 44.8 percent of its third down opportunities, up from 31 percent last year, a major reason why the Tigers are averaging 37 points per game after finishing last season at 18.7 points per contest.
A major goal for Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson in recent weeks is having his players do a better job on preventing third down conversions. The Tigers, who allowed a 41 percent conversion rate last year, are making progress on that front.
Against Florida Atlantic last Saturday the Tigers allowed the FAU offense to convert just 2-13 third down opportunities. In the second half FAU was 0-5 on third downs.
For the season Auburn's opponents are converting 32 percent of the time. In the third quarter the percentage is 28.0 and in the fourth quarter opponents are just 6-32 for an 18.8 conversion percentage.
Johnson coaches the linebackers in addition to coordinating the overall defense and notes those guys need to have a strong performance this week because of the style of play the Tigers will see from the Razorbacks.
"Linebacker play is going to be critical any time you have got a good running football team like Arkansas," Johnson said. "I feel like there are a lot of things we can do better, but I feel like right now they are all playing very solid, making some plays a lot better than we were at the beginning of the year."
In other news and notes:
*The Tigers have lost their last two games vs. the Razorbacks as well as four of the last five, dropping Auburn's edge in the series to 11-10-1. Auburn has a 4-4 record in games played in Fayetteville with AU's last victory there a 9-7 decision in 2007.
*With Auburn's previous SEC game at Texas A&M and next week's league game at Tennessee, the Tigers are playing three consecutive SEC games on the road for the first time since doing it in 1986 vs. Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Florida.
*The Arkansas game will be televised on ESPN2 with Joe Tessitore doing play-by-play. Matt Millen is the analyst and Maria Taylor the sideline reporter.
*The Tigers came out of their 45-10 victory over Florida Atlantic in relatively good shape on the injury-front. QB Nick Marshall, who hurt his shoulder early in the second quarter on Saturday night, is practicing and expected to be ready to resume his starting role vs. the Razorbacks. Wide receiver Marcus Davis, who hurt an ankle vs. FAU, is expected to be full speed this week.
Defensive end Keymiya Harrell, who dressed out for the first time this season vs. FAU, is likely to apply for a medical redshirt as he continues to recover from ACL surgery. Linebacker/"star" Justin Garrett's return from a series of injuries continues to look to be unlikely and he is a redshirt candidate, too.
*At his Monday press conference in Fayetteville, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema complained that on the game tape exchange with the AU?coaching staff the copy his team received did not show one of Auburn's two-point conversion formations.
Malzahn responded on Tuesday, stating, "Regarding the film exchange issue that was brought to my attention yesterday, I will say this: we will always operate with the utmost integrity in everything we do. If there is ever anything that I don't know about that is brought to my attention, we will deal with it in a prompt manner.
"The SEC office is aware of all the details on both sides," the Auburn coach added. "That is all I am going to say regarding that."