Auburn-Arkansas: What To Watch

Auburn's defensive line is one of the focal points for the Tigers as they face Arkansas in the season football opener.

Auburn, Ala.--It’s the week that college football fans have been waiting for since January with games kicking off around the Southeastern Conference and the rest of the country. Gus Malzahn's Auburn Tigers will immediately jump into league play on Saturday against SEC Western Division foe Arkansas at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Last season Auburn handled the Razorbacks on the road, but it was a slugfest as Arkansas kept the ball away from the Tigers with a ground game that churned out 222 rushing yards with 25 first downs. Getting Arkansas off the field with stops on third down and getting the ball back to Rhett Lashlee’s offense is a main goal for the Tigers’ defense.

With the loss of Dee Ford, Auburn's star pass rusher at defensive end from last season, along with an injury to Carl Lawson, Auburn’s biggest question mark heading into Saturday’s opener is how will the defensive line match up?

One of the most physical teams the Tigers faced a year ago and expected to be improved in year two under Coach Bret Bielema, Arkansas presents a challenge for Coach Ellis Johnson’s Auburn defense with a strong running attack featuring talented backs and massive offensive line.

To counteract that and with a lack of experienced depth at end, Auburn could have perhaps the biggest defensive line in school history when the Tigers take the field this weekend. Auburn's players listed as first team on the front four of the depth chart weigh in at close to 1,200 pounds.

The Tigers are expected start senior Gabe Wright, a starter at tackle last season, at one end with sophomore Elijah Daniel on the other side. A sophomore who played tackle last year, Montravius Adams, has been getting practice time at both end and tackle and gives the Tigers another big body option at end who weighs in at 300-plus.

Elijah Daniel should have an increased role with the Tigers this season and will be counted on to rush the passer.

Senior LaDarius Owens, who has starting experience, and junior college transfer Davonte Lambert are also in the mix at the end spots. Both enter the season No. 2 on the depth chart, but should see significant playing time.

With both Owens and Daniel around 260 pounds each and easily the smallest of the eight players listed on the two-deep, Auburn’s front four should have the size to match up against the ground and pound attack of the Razorbacks when you include defensive tackles such as Jeffrey Whitaker, Ben Bradley, Angelo Blackson and junior college transfer Devaroe Lawrence at the tackle positions. Whitaker, Bradley and Blackson both weigh more than 300 pounds and each of those tackles has starting experience.

Special Teams Help

One of the biggest additions to a team that has recruited well is the number of athletes available for special teams work. That is not just in the return game, something that could be a strength for Auburn with guys like Corey Grant, Ricardo Louis, Sammie Coates, Quan Bray, Johnathan "Rudy" Ford, Stephen Roberts, Marcus Davis and others available, but it’s also about covering kicks. With more depth than last year at the skill positions the Tigers will have a good chance to be solid with their coverage.

Roberts and Tre Williams are two of the young guys who should get a look in that area along with players such as Ford, Khari Harding, JaViere Mitchell and Brandon King. All bring plenty of athleticism and speed to the table, allowing the coaches to rest some starters and keep them fresh for the fourth quarter.

When Auburn Has The Ball

When teams face the Auburn Tigers this season they will have to pick their poison because with the wealth of talent at wide receiver and Malzahn’s desire to run the football, it won’t be easy to take away both. That leaves a player like Louis a chance to do big things this season as teams focus on the Auburn running game and receivers like Coates, D'haquille "Duke" Williams and Ricardo Louis. Louis is one of the fastest players on the team at 210 pounds. The former quarterback is just now beginning to feel comfortable as a wide receiver. With the ability to run the ball out of the slot as well, Louis could bring an extra dimension to the running attack in addition to his big-play ability as a receiver.

Ricardo Louis could have a big role for the Tigers this Saturday and throughout the season

When Arkansas Has The Ball

Auburn’s defensive front will be in for a big challenge on Saturday from an Arkansas offensive line that will be one of the biggest in the country this season. Throw in a group of talented tight ends and it’s imperative the Tigers’ front four holds up its end of the bargain. That means playing strong on first down and putting the Razorbacks in predictable passing situations.

If Arkansas can get a steady gain of four or more yards on first down it will set up perfectly for the grind-it-out style that Bielema wants to employ. Third and long situations are exactly the recipe for success for Auburn’s defense this Saturday, allowing Rodney Garner to get his pass rushers on the field to put pressure on Brandon Allen.

Taking Care Of Business

Auburn is a big favorite heading into Saturday’s 3 p.m. kickoff and rightfully so. With talent and experience back on both sides of the ball, the Tigers should be the better team in the opener, but the better team doesn’t always win.

This week will give Auburn fans an early indication of how well the team has handled being the hunted instead of the hunter after winning the SEC Championship last season.

With a large senior class and a coach who remains focused on doing the little things right every day, Auburn should be ready to go when the curtain goes up on the new season.

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