The Tigers will have to deal with the Razorbacks this Saturday morning in what looks to be a key SEC Western Division showdown. Each team enters with a perfect record in conference play and the Razorbacks are undefeated overall and ranked seventh in the country after victories over Top 10 Texas and Alabama already this season.
Coach Houston Nutt's Arkansas team has its highest national ranking since the 1980s.
The Hogs are led by a powerful offense that uses the run to set up deep passes by quarterbacks Matt Jones and Ryan Sorahan. Jones is one of the most dangerous players in college football and uses his six-foot-six, 237-pound frame as both a runner and passer to make plays from sideline to sideline, end zone to end zone. This season the junior has rushed for 196 yards on just 23 carries and has a 60-yard touchdown run to his credit. His average of 8.5 yards per carry includes 59 yards lost because of sacks.
Jones' ability to get outside of containment should be a major factor Saturday's game because he can throw the ball well outside of the pocket and usually has players open because of the threat of him using his speed to make big plays with the run. This season he is 31-52 passing for 427 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. Sorahan (6-4, 238, Sr.) is the drop-back passer for the Hogs and has thrown for 319 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
When the Hogs line up on offense they usually run the ball and that means getting it into the hands of senior standout Cedric Cobbs (6-1, 225). Leading the SEC in rushing at 140.5 yards per game with five touchdowns, Cobbs is averaging 6.4 yards per carry on 88 attempts this season and has the ability to take it the distance at any time. If he needs a rest the ball goes to talented De'Arrius Howard (6-0, 229, So.). Howard has 159 yards on 59 carries this season with five touchdowns.
At fullback Mark Pierce (6-0, 247, Jr.) rarely gets the ball, but when he does he makes the defense pay. He has 39 yards on just six carries with one touchdown. For the year the Hogs have rushed for 14 touchdowns and given up just two.
Without a doubt the strength of the offense comes up front where All-American and Outland Trophy candidate Shawn Andrews stands at the top of the heap in college football when it comes to offensive linemen. The 6-5, 380-pound junior is the most physical SEC offensive lineman to come along in years and has the footwork and mean streak to take his game to higher and higher levels when needed. Joining him up front are right guard Mark Bokermann (6-5, 302, Sr.), center Dan Doughty (6-2, 290, Sr.), left guard Jerry Reith (6-3, 300, Sr.) and left tackle Bo Lacy (6-4, 298, Sr.).
Another offensive lineman is tight end Jason Peters. The 6-5, 320-pound junior is a strong run blocker, but he can also catch the ball and get downfield. For the year he has eight catches for 88 yards with a long reception of 22 yards.
Quarterback Matt Jones has speed and big-play potential.
Anytime Jones looks for a big play in the passing game you can almost bet that either George Wilson or Richard Smith are going to be involved. A 6-1, 207-pound senior, Wilson has 14 catches for 283 yards and three touchdowns. He's averaging 20.2 yards per catch and has a long of 54 yards. Smith, a 5-10, 186-pound senior, has just eight catches, but he has 202 yards receiving. Averaging 25.2 yards every time he catches the ball, Smith is a home run hitter and has two touchdowns.
Defensively, the strength of the Hogs is in the secondary where cornerbacks Ahmad Carroll (5-11, 191, Jr.) and Lawrence Richardson (5-10, 188, Sr.) patrol the outside as well as any combination in the SEC. Also senior Eddie Jackson (6-0, 190) should get a considerable amount of playing time at the position and is a talented player in his own right.
At safety Tony Bua (5-11, 220, Sr.) has continued his ball hawking ways after moving from outside linebacker. This season he has 38 tackles in four games with one fumble recovery. The rover is senior Jimmy Beasley (5-11, 196) who has 18 tackles on the year.
Up front the Razorbacks are solid, but not dominating. They are allowing 137 yards rushing per game and have just four sacks in four games. Those numbers should be a good sign for an Auburn offense that hopes to establish the running game early and take the pressure of quarterback Jason Campbell. Among the Arkansas front four of Justin Scott (6-2, 250, Sr.), Arrion Dixon (6-4, 293, Jr.), Scott Davenport (6-2, 294, Sr.) and Jeb Huckeba (6-5, 250, Sr.) none have been really effective. That honor belongs to backup end Elliot Harris (6-4, 262, Jr.). This season Harris has 19 tackles, three for losses and one sack. Huckeba has added 16 tackles with four going for losses.
At linebacker veteran Caleb Miller leads a speedy and athletic group that makes plays, but is not overpowering. For the season the 6-3, 220-pound senior has 29 tackles and one sack. In the middle Sam Olajubutu (5-10, 222, So.) from LaGrange, Ga., has been solid this season in his first as a starter. He is third on the team with 20 tackles and has one of the team's three interceptions. A weakside linebacker Jimarr Gallon (5-11, 196, Sr.) has been solid with 18 tackles, one sack and one interception. One of the top backups at linebacker is sophomore Pierre Brown. The Birmingham native has eight tackles in limited duty this season.
Special teams play has been huge this season across the country and that's one area the Hogs have struggled in this season. Kickers Chris Balseiro and David Carlton are a combined 5-9 in the field goal department with just two attempts outside 40 yards. Punter Jacob Skinner has also been inconsistent, averaging just 36.1 yards per attempt this season on 13 kicks. He has done a good job of pinning opponents deep though with six punts inside the 20-yard line and just two touchbacks.
With both teams dependent on physical running games and opportunistic defenses to control the ball, this game will likely come down to which one makes the fewest mistakes. Lately in this series that has been the Hogs, who have dominated each of the last two games on the scoreboard despite Auburn's offense moving the ball successfully in each. If the Tigers can eliminate the silly mistakes and turnovers they should have a great chance to pull out a victory in a place where fond memories for Tiger players, coaches and fans don't have too many fond memories.