Auburn goes into the contest at Reynolds Razorback Stadium looking for a fifth consecutive victory while Arkansas is trying to avoid losing for the sixth consecutive time.
"I think we still have got some people to prove wrong," said Whitehead, whose team controls its own destiny for winning the SEC West with a 3-1 league mark. The Tigers are 7-1 overall facing an opponent that is 3-5 with an 0-4 SEC record. In many preseason polls the Razorbacks were forecast to have a better team than the Tigers.
"I think we still want to prove ourself that we can win 10 games, we can win 11 games, we can be a great football team," said Whitehead, who noted the Tigers are continuing to work hard in practice and take every opponent seriously."
Through eight games the Tigers are having the biggest turnaround of any team in college football going from 1-7 to 7-1.
Jermaine Whitehead returns a fumble vs. Florida Atlantic.
"We are going to take it one day at a time and one game at a time and we will see what happens," added Whitehead, who is fifth on the team in total tackles with 22 solo stops and nine assists. The safety has one interception, one fumble recovery and has deflected two passes.
Whitehead and the Tigers practiced for two-plus hours in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets on Wednesday evening as Auburn continued preparations for its third road trip of the season.
Head coach Gus Malzahn continues to say that quarterback Nick Marshall is "day to day" as far as being ready to start vs. the Razorbacks on Saturday. "Our quarterback practiced again today--nothing has changed," Malzahn said. "No new news on that."
Marshall hurt his shoulder in the first half of Auburn's victory over Florida Atlantic. Asked how the junior threw the ball on Wednesday evening, Malzahn said, "Decent." He noted that Marshall and backup Jeremy Johnson shared reps in the workout.
Nick Marshall ran for two touchdowns and passed for more on Auburn's last road trip to Texas A&M.
Marshall is throwing for an average of 164 yards per game and has six touchdown passes and four interceptions. As a runner the junior has carried the football 81 times for 461 yards, an average of 5.7 yards per rush.
Like Whitehead, the head coach said the Tigers need to continue to play with the intensity that has helped them on previous Saturdays this fall. "Every week you have to be hungry, especially in our league," Malzahn said. "We have got to improve every week. The teams that don't every week you see what happens."
Malzahn said that the Tigers followed up a "solid" Tuesday evening practice with another one on Wednesday, noting that offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and Ellis Johnson have been "pretty pleased" with what they are seeing from the team.
"Our guys were ready to practice, flying around, doing what they needed to do," the coach said.
Whitehead said the defense is improving and another junior, tight end/H-back C.J. Uzomah, contends the same thing is taking place on his side of the ball.
"It has grown a lot," Uzomah said of Auburn's offense, which is averaging 511.0 yards per game. That ranks the Tigers No. 2 in the SEC this week behind only Texas A&M.
"Coach Malzahn emphasizes getting better each week, each practice, each game," Uzomah said. "We have done that as an offense and as a team entity. As the games progress as we practice each day, we can feel ourselves getting better.
"We can feel the timing routes, the blocking, the protection, the perimeter blocking on the offensive side of the ball increase and get better each day, each practice and each game," Uzomah added. "The preparation throughout the week gives us the confidence to go out on game day and really perform."
Healthy again after missing practice and game time with a calf injury, Uzomah caught two passes in Auburn's victory over Florida Atlantic last week.
Uzomah said his team is taking the approach that Saturday's game will be a tough one even though the Razorbacks have just three wins in eight outings. "They are going to play as hard as they can," he predicted.
C.J. Uzomah has five catches for 95 yards this season.
"They have had two weeks to prepare for us so we know they are going to have a few wrinkles," Uzomah said. "I think it's our job to adjust to them. They are going to have different plays for us, we think. As the game progresses, we will understand what their plan is and we will have to make our corrections as the game goes on."
In other news and notes:
*Freshman cornerback Johnathan Ford, who has also seen duty at tailback, missed practice due to a family emergency. Malzahn said he isn't sure when Ford will return to Auburn after returning home to spend time with his mother who is ill.
Ford is listed as a second team cornerback behind senior Chris Davis. He has five tackles and one pass deflection. He also has carried the football six times for 73 yards and one touchdown.
Johnathan Ford is shown in action as a running back.
*The Arkansas game will be televised on ESPN2 with Joe Tessitore doing play-by-play for the 5 p.m. CDT kickoff. Matt Millen is the analyst and Maria Taylor the sideline reporter.
*Satellite radio coverage is available on Sirius channel 112 and XM channel 201.
*Auburn and Arkansas have just one common opponent this year. Auburn defeated Texas A&M 45-41 on Oct. 19th in College Station. The Razorbacks fell 44-33 to the Aggies in Fayetteville on Sept. 28th in a game that was played in the rain.
Arkansas has wins over Louisiana-LaFayette (34-14), Sam Ford (31-21) and Southern Miss (24-3). Arkansas is on a five-game losing streak that started on Sept. 21st with a 28-24 loss to Rutgers. After falling to the Aggies the Razorbacks dropped games at Florida (30-10), at home to South Carolina (52-7) and at Alabama on Oct. 19th in their previous outing.
*With 206 passing yards vs. Florida Atlantic last week, Auburn has thrown for 200 yards five times this season. Last year the Tigers reached that mark just twice and in 2011 just one time. Arkansas has passed for 200 yards twice this year, reaching that mark with 230 vs. Louisiana-LaFayette and 282 vs. Texas A&M.
Going into game nine the Razorbacks are averaging 146.6 passing yards per game, which ranks last in the SEC by a large margin. Tennessee is 13th at 169.9 yards per game. Auburn is 11th with 195.6 passing yards per contest.
*Auburn is No. 1 in SEC rushing at 315.4 yards per game with Missouri a distant second at 224.5. Arkansas is rushing for 209.9 yards per contest, which is fourth in the conference.
Defensively, Auburn is ranked fifth against the run among SEC teams by allowing 138.5 yards per game. Arkansas is 11th allowing 172.0.
*Depth in the secondary has been an issue for the Tigers. Last week against FAU the group got a boost with the return of sophomore cornerback Jonathan Jones, who suffered a cracked bone in his ankle in August and was reinjured during the season.
Jones made two tackles and deflected a pass last week and had one of the biggest hits of the season on a tackle as part of the kickoff coverage group. The sophomore said one of his goals in the offseason was to become stronger and he has made progress.
"I put in work with Coach (Ryan) Russell in the weight room," he said of AU's strength and conditioning coach. "I put on some weight and got stronger and faster to be able to be physical."
Jones, who is 5-10, 180 pounds with sprinter's speed, pointed out he enjoyed getting back into game action last Saturday night. "It felt good to get back in the groove of things, to get the rust off," he said.
Grant, a junior from Opelika High, has run the ball 45 times and is averaging 10.0 yards per carry. The running back scored his fourth touchdown vs. FAU using his outstanding speed to break free on a sweep of right end in the opening quarter.
Grant was mostly a spectator during Auburn games last season and says it is a "great feeling" being a major contributor this fall. "It is actually fun, getting in," he said. "With the offensive line we have, and the receivers we have, I can just break one at any time."
*Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Grant, Auburn's top three running backs, have combined to rush for 19 touchdowns this season and are averaging a combined 214.3 rushing yards per game with an average of just under seven yards per carry.
*Malzahn had praise for the defensive line on Wednesday night after practice. "That is a group that has really done a good job,"?he said. "The good thing about it is we have played a lot of different people, and lot of different people have really stepped up at times."
The Tigers are playing 11-13 guys on the front four in games. The head coach said that is probably the area with the most depth on this year's team. "A lot of guys have playing experience and that is very important," he said. "It is going to be important again on Saturday."