Auburn, Ala.--Facing an Arkansas team that is averaging 34.9 points, 445.6 yards of total offense, and a league-leading 24.4 first downs gained per game, Coach Kevin Steele and the Auburn Tigers have a tough challenge ahead on Saturday evening at Jordan-Hare Stadium. With quarterback Austin Allen and running back Rawleigh Williams leading the way, the Razorbacks also lead the league in time of possession at 35:41 per game.
With his defense healthier and rested following the bye week, Steele said this week is once again about what the Tigers do well and not about what Arkansas does on the other side.
“We don’t worry about what they do, it’s what we do,” he said. “What we do is challenge our guys to stop the run and keep the top on the coverage and get off the field either through turnovers or downs. Obviously that’s key in any game.
“You cannot give up big runs. You can’t give up big passes. And you’ve got to get off the field on third down. It’s no different, they just go about it a little different way. It’s not any different than any of the players or any of the coaches have seen and seen this year.”
A key to the play for the Tigers will be a linebacker group that has continued to improve over the course of the season. One of those guys is redshirt sophomore DeShaun Davis. Bothered by a strained groin in the win over Mississippi State, Davis will be ready to go this weekend said Steele.
“He’s been fine,” the coordinator said. “Can’t tell anything from that. He had that little pull at Mississippi State, but he’s been fine. He’s a tough guy,”
Davis was one of several players that needed the time off said Steele. Coming off a six-game stretch that saw the defense improve week after week, he said concentrating on the little things and getting a head start on Arkansas was good for his group.
“Obviously, coming off the bye week, it was needed and it fell at a good time six games into the season, the halfway point,” Steele said. “It gave us a time to get some guys healed up that were not serious injuries but little things that were nagging them.
“Some of the older guys and guys that who were seeing a substantial amount of playing time. It got to get them fresh and healed up a little bit. We also worked a lot of young guys. It was totally against no opponent. Just us getting better at technique, fundamentals, tackling, those kind of things. Understanding the concepts of what we are doing.
“Last Thursday we worked on Arkansas and then Sunday, which was a different kind of Sunday because we actually got two Tuesday practices, which was huge. We got to practice a Tuesday practice on Sunday and a Tuesday practice on Tuesday. That was big.”
Putting up big numbers in his first season as a starter, Allen enters Saturday’s game averaging 265.9 yards passing per game with 18 touchdowns and six interceptions. Throwing the most passes in the league to this point (219), Allen’s proficiency has made this Arkansas offense a different one than Steele said they’ve seen in the past because of what he’s able to do from the pocket.
The quarterback is pretty accurate,” Steele said. “He’s a tough guy. He gets hit a lot, stands in there and throws it at the last second, and throws it very accurate.”
With yet another challenge of facing a top offensive team coming their way, Steele said the Tigers will approach Saturday’s game like they have all season long. Preaching to his team that it’s all about the process and focusing on themselves, Steele said that’s the goal against the Razorbacks.
“It still comes back to hey, get your hat in your gap, do it with physicality, do it with technique, and fly your tail to the football,” he said. “That’s what we control. We don’t get out of that realm of ‘ok, I get concerned about this’. If you look at it, that’s not something I control anyway. What play they call, when they call them, who they’ve got on the field, we don’t control that. We control what defense we call, what gap that our players have, what zone they have or what man they have, and how they play that. When it’s in your control then concern is not an issue.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 5 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN.