Auburn, Ala.--For the first time since he was injured during the LSU game, junior quarterback Brandon Cox is moving around like his old self and that's good news for the Auburn Tigers and offensive coordinator Al Borges. Knowing that his quarterback will need to make plays this week against an Arkansas defense determined to stop Kenny Irons and the running game, Borges says the Tigers will be more willing to turn it loose against the Hogs than in past games.
"We can be a little bit more footloose and fancy free with our play calling," Borges says. "We didn't do it so much last week but the week before we really tried to protect him by not having him in the pocket a lot. Last week we let it rip. The more rest he gets and the less he gets hit then the better he gets. He's probably better now than he's been in three weeks. If he doesn't take a lot of shots he'll be better next week. Those two days off really helped."
One area of concern on offense is the lack of plays the offense has run this season. Part of that has to do with a defense that in recent weeks has struggled to get off the field on third downs. Also the new clock rules have made each possession very important to the overall game. Borges says that everything is against the offense at the moment but his team just needs to pick up its game beginning this weekend.
"We've just got to convert third downs," Borges says. "We've been pretty good that way. You just have to take advantage of every opportunity. I don't know any other way to say it. You can't be three and out. We had two three and outs last week, the only bad drives we had. The second quarter of the game before wasn't good. That's all you can do is maximize your chances. These rule changes are definitely having an effect on how many plays you run."
Quarterback Brandon Cox is completing 62.8 percent of his passes this season but is attempting an average of just 19 passes per contest.
Facing a defense that is allowing 23.8 points and 361.5 yards per game, Auburn's should be licking its chops to get on the field Saturday but that's not the way Borges sees things. Very familiar with a defense that shut down the Tigers for a half last season before the running game took over, Borges says that Arkansas' defense can bring it and will be a stiff challenge.
"Athleticism and speed is what they're best at," Borges says. "They have a good movement package. They slant and bring people off the edge. They show a lot of different looks with their 4-3 front. That's their biggest thing is they really recruit fast defenses that get to the ball in a hurry. I don't see a lot of weaknesses.
"The big thing we've got to be able to do is that if we can run the ball that neutralizes a lot of what they can do," he adds. "If we can't then that neutralizes a lot of what we can do if that makes any sense."
Auburn must make plays on offense this week without a key component in senior center Joe Cope. Injuring his knee against South Carolina, Cope turns the reigns over to sophomore Jason Bosley this week for his first career start. Borges says that while he doesn't have a great deal of experience, Bosley has all the tools to get the job done against the Hogs.
"He really did a nice job," Borges says of practice this week. "The thing about Boz is that he's a very smart kid and he's bigger than Joe which in some instances helps a little bit. The biggest thing with Joe is his toughness and experience is huge. Boz is also a tough kid but just hasn't played as much. I think he'll do a good job.
"He's watched Joe," he adds. "He's had a chance to study Joe, who did a good job with it. Consequently he's done it himself. We didn't really list him as our back-up center, it was more Jonathan Palmer, but we used him a bunch in preparation if we had to put him in the game. He got a lot of reps although he didn't get a lot of plays."
Known for being a physical football team on both sides of the ball, Arkansas comes into Saturday morning's contest looking for the big win that has avoided them in recent years. For Auburn to come away with the victory the running game will have to step up and perform once again. If that happens senior guards Tim Duckworth and Ben Grubbs will likely be right in the thick of things and Borges says that's just the way Auburn wants it.
"This is another one of those games like LSU in that it's a slugfest game," Borges says. "Those two inside guys know that a lot of this thing is going to be won right in there. It was last year and it probably was the year before that and it probably will be this time too. It's another typical SEC opponent. Arkansas fits the mold so well. They are fast and physical."