"It was a low point to a certain extent, but that was last year," Thomas says. "We are looking forward to this year. We regained our confidence and we are trying to go out and get better this game."
Auburn, which will bring a three-game winning streak to Fayetteville after dropping two games to start the season, will square off with Arkansas at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Razorback Stadium. After beating seventh-ranked Tennessee 28-21 last week at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Tigers get to play No. 7 in the nation again as the Razorbacks have climbed higher in the polls than they have been since October of 1989.
Arkansas has won the last two meetings in the series, including a surprisingly lopsided 38-17 victory at Auburn last year in a game the Tigers led just before halftime. The Razorbacks then overpowered an Auburn defense plagued by injuries that day with a powerhouse ground attack that included 426 yards on 45 carries. Fred Tally, who was a senior last fall, had his career best game with 241 rushing yards.
Thomas expects the Razorbacks to try to again overpower the Tiger defense with some old-fashioned, smash-mouth football. "They are pretty much the same type of offense," the Auburn linebacker says. "They try to pound the ball down your throat. They basically come at you. They have another good running back (Cedric Cobbs)."
Dontarrious Thomas keeps his eye on Tennessee quarterback Casey Clausen.
Cobbs, who is a 6-1, 225 senior, has four straight 100-yard rushing games and eight for his career. He has helped the Razorbacks average an impressive 6.1 yards per play on first down this year. Cobbs ran for 198 yards vs. Alabama in his last outing and is averaging 140.5 yards per game at 6.4 per carry. As a team, Arkansas is averaing 247.8 rushing yards per game and 186.5 passing.
Cobbs says the 4-0 Razorbacks have the potential to have another big rushing day vs. the Tigers this week. "Definitely, it is possible," he says. "Anything is possible. Auburn, of course, has a big-time linebacker corps and good defensive linemen, also."
Thomas, who is Auburn's starting middle linebacker, says that Cobbs isn't the only major concern for the defense. "Their quarterback (Matt Jones) is exceptionally good," says Thomas, who also has praise for the Razorback receivers and other players. "They have still got that offensive line," Thomas notes. "They are pretty much the same team as last year. We have just got to step up our game and play better than we did last year."
Jones, a six-foot-six, 237-pound junior, is averaging 8.5 yards per carry this season and 6.2 for his career. He has hit 32-51 passes this season for 427 yards with four TDs and two interceptions.
"He is a good quarterback," Thomas says. "He is versatile. He has great speed and can also find the open receiver. We are going to really have to get some pressure on him and try to contain him. Hopefully, we will do a good job of stopping the run and throwing some different looks at him to shake him up a little."
Thomas says he doesn't expect much trickery this week from the opposing offense. "You know what they are going to do--just come at you," he notes. "That is what football is all about--just playing ball and coming at you and seeing who is the better man."
Jones is known for being extra dangerous when he runs the football, but he is passing the ball with more accuracy in 2003. Thomas says that means he has to be careful before he takes off after the Razorback quarterback. "You just have to play your responsibilities and let the game come to you," he says. "You can't worry too much about whether or not he is going to break out and run and get out of your pass coverage too early or he will hit you for a long ball. You have just got to play what you see."
What the veteran Auburn linebacker sees from watching videos of the Razorbacks must impress him. "They look like a good team that is well deserving of their ranking," he says. "They have all of the pieces of the puzzle on the offensive side of the ball to do some good things. They have a good quarterback, who can scramble and throw the ball, as well as receivers who can make great catches and a nice running back who is having a heck of a season this year. Their offensive line is real physical. We are going to have our hands full. We just have to come out and play ball."