Fayetteville, Ark.--Coming off a 34-30 victory over Ole Miss last weekend, the Arkansas Razorbacks (5-2, 1-2) turn their attention to the Auburn Tigers (4-2, 2-1) with a road trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium coming up on Saturday.
Defeating Auburn in four overtimes a season ago, Coach Bret Bielema said it’s a different year and that means a fresh start. While there are obvious ties between Auburn and Arkansas because of Gus Malzahn, Rhett Lashlee, Tim Horton and others on the staff with the Tigers, he said for them it’s just another week in the SEC.
“I have tremendous respect for Gus and the program he’s built,” Bielema said. “They are playing really good football here, especially the last two or three games. They’ve settled in on their quarterback. Kevin Steele and that defense is really performing at a high level. They have a lot of really good players playing extremely well and extremely smart.
“The fact that it’s the SEC West makes it special enough,” he added about the game. “I realize that Gus played a couple of years here and you’ve got Tim and their offensive coordinator and all of those things that tie in here, but our kids don’t know anything. That’s noise that we don’t hear. I worry about it’s an SEC opponent from the West that’s playing really good football. They are a ranked football team and if we continue to play well that’s another notch in our belt. That’s the things we concentrate on.”
Averaging 34.9 points and 445.6 yards per game on offense, the Razorbacks are led by Dan Enos on that side of the ball as the coordinator. A former head coach on the D1 level, Enos said seeing this Auburn defense a second time around makes for a different look with Kevin Steele now running things for the Tigers.
“They’re good and we’re going to have to play very well,” Enos said. “On the road we’re going to have to match their physicality. Obviously it’s going to be a great challenge.
“Coach Steele is an outstanding coach and he evolves every year,” he added. “You see different personnel and he’s trying to use that any way he can. They are very multiple and they put pressure on you with the things they do.”
For Auburn, the defensive production starts on the defensive line where Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams lead a group that has performed well to start the 2016 season. On the flip side Arkansas has three new starters on the offensive line, but it’s a group that Bielema said he’s seeing improve week by week.
“We have three new starters in our lineup and we’ve gotten better every game,” he said. “They’ve done some really good things. Everybody wanted to show the negative plays they had against Alabama, but there were a lot of plays they played very, very well. If I dwelled on the negative like everybody else we for sure wouldn’t be getting where we need to be. The guys have made steady improvement and they’re good football players.”
Averaging 179.7 yards rushing per game this season, the Razorbacks want to be physical running the football like any Bielema-coached team. Leading the charge is running back Rawleigh Williams, rushing for 785 yards and five touchdowns this year. Enos said they’ll face a tough test against the Tigers this weekend if they want be productive on offense.
“They are very good on the defensive line,” Enos said. “No. 55 is back, Lawson, and he’s healthy. He’s a difference maker. No. 1 in their the defensive tackle, Adams is his name, he’s very good and very explosive with a quick first step. The first thing you notice is their size. I think they’re very well-coached in the back end. I think they are very disciplined back there. Their eyes are good and in the right spots. They play physical. It’s going to be a tough test. They have played very well against some good offenses.”
Kickoff for Auburn-Arkansas is scheduled for 5 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN.