Nowland, Tigers Preparing For Tough Defense

Auburn, Ala.--Ben Nowland says he and his fellow offensive linemen are getting ready for a mental and physical test on Saturday.

Since John Thompson took over as defensive coordinator of the Arkansas Razorbacks at the end of the 1999 season, defense has been the strength for Coach Houston Nutt's squad. Last year, the Razorbacks finished 12th nationally in total defense, allowing 292.1 yards per game.

This season, the 3-3 Razorbacks are giving up 335.2 yards per contest, but in their last outing they allowed just seven points to a high-powered South Carolina team. That has the attention and respect of Nowland and the Auburn coaching staff, who also note that Tennessee managed just 13 points against the Razorbacks.

"They have some talent on defense," says Nowland. "They've been pretty solid. It will be a test for us."

Nowland says that the gambling, unorthodox defensive style preferred by Arkansas reminds him of the method used by Mississippi State defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn. "Mississippi State, coming off that loss to Florida, played pretty conservatively against us this year," Nowland notes. "We have been watching a lot of film this week to make sure we have the right points (assignments)."

Flanked by senior guards Hart McGarry and Mike Pucillo and with senior Kendall Simmons at a tackle, the Tigers feature a veteran offensive front. "That should help us this week," Nowland says. "It is a big benefit having experienced guys in Hart and Mike next to me. If I do make the wrong point, they will correct me. That helps."

The Tigers produced a season high 48 points last week vs. Louisiana Tech in a seven-point overtime win. "It was a huge confidence builder to score that many points," Nowland says. "I don't think we ran the ball as well as we would've liked to have run it, and that's something we're going to have to do this weekend. That is something we're going to focus on. If we can get that established, it seems that teams that have been able to establish the run against Arkansas have been successful. That will be a key point in this game."

Auburn comes into the game at 4-0 in the SEC while the Razorbacks are 1-3 in league play. Nowland says he and his teammates understand the game's importance. A victory will put Auburn in great shape for a return trip to the SEC Championship Game. A win in Atlanta was a preseason goal for the 2001 Tigers. "It should be another step up the ladder on the way to our goal if we win," Nowland says, who adds, "but I don't want to jump any guns or anything like that."

Kickoff is set for shortly after 11:30 a.m. from 72,000-seat Reynolds Stadium which has 21,000 more seats than on Auburn's trip to the Arkansas campus in 1999. Nowland's Tigers played poorly on their last visit two years ago on a cold, dismal, rainy day.

Nowland says it is time to look to the future and put that game in the rearview mirror and don't sweat the venue. "We need to mainly not worry about it being an away game and just go out there and stay focused and play our game and just not let the weather or the crowd get to us," Nowland says. "We know we've got an off week next week so we've just got to go out there and lay it on the line, hold nothing back."


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