The Tigers are hoping to stay atop the standings while the Razorbacks are trying desperately to avoid being eliminated the race for Atlanta after just three games. Kickoff for the game is set for 11:30 a.m. and can be seen on regional TV on Jefferson-Pilot Sports.
Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt is 32-20 in his fifth season at Arkansas.
Starting the season with convincing wins over Boise State (41-14) and South Florida (42-3), Coach Houston Nutt's Razorbacks were poised to make a name for themselves when they playedAlabama in Fayetteville two weeks ago. However, the Hogs were demolished 30-12 and had to travel to Knoxville last Saturday night to face the Tennessee Volunteers.
Falling behind 17-3 late in the game, the Hogs scored two late touchdowns to send the game to overtime. Blowing several opportunities to win, Arkansas lost the marathon game in the sixth overtime in what could be a big advantage for Auburn this week.
A bruised and battered Hog squad will come into Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday looking to salvage a season that has quickly turned sour. With injuries to starting tailback Cedric Cobbs (6-1, 225, Jr.) and backup De'Arrius Howard (6-0, 220, RFr.) along with several banged-up offensive linemen, the Razorback offense would be a question mark this weekend if not for quarterback Matt Jones.
Perhaps the most dangerous player in the league in terms of everything Jones does for his team, the 6-5, 225 sophomore has been a one-man wrecking crew this season. Second on the team in rushing yards with 249 while leading the team in passing with 551 yards, he has proven to be a threat both running and passing the ball, something that has given Auburn teams a problem in the past.
"I think he's underrated somewhat," Auburn defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said of Jones as a passer. "Earlier in the year he struggled a little bit throwing the football and he's gotten better as the games have gone on. Of course, that comes with time. He's always going to get his touches on the ball in terms of running. He's getting 100 yards a game it seems like. I do think his passing is underrated."
Arkansas sports perhaps the best stable of backs Auburn will face this season with Cobbs and Howard the main duo. A talent performer who has stayed injured for much of his career, Cobbs leads the team with 293 rushing yards this season while Howard has added 190.
Tiger fans will remember Fred Talley (5-9, 188, Sr.) after he rushed for 161 yards in a narrow Auburn win two seasons ago. This season he has rushed for 190 yards and leads the team with three touchdowns. Brandon Holmes (6-2, 225, Jr.) is also a very capable back with 123 yards on just 26 carries this season. Fullback Mark Pierce (6-0, 240, So.) can be a dangerous runner, but is used mostly as a blocker.
Tailback Cedric Cobbs has rushed for 1,592 yards in his career with 16 touchdowns and is averaging 4.7 yards per carry during that time.
At wide receiver Richard Smith (5-10, 186, Jr.) has been the big-play threat for the Hogs this season with 11 catches for 302 yards and three touchdowns, including a school-record 92-yarder against the Vols Saturday night. Behind him George Wilson (6-1, 205, Jr.) is second on the team with 10 catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Productivity out of the rest of the receiving corps has been minimal with Sparky Hamilton (6-4, 215, Sr.) and speedy Decori Birmingham (6-0, 200, So.) tied for third on the team in catches with just five. If the Tigers can keep Smith in check they should be in good shape against the pass on Saturday.
Up front the Hogs are led by perhaps the best tackle in the league in 6-5, 330 sophomore Shawn Andrews. A dominant force, expect to see the Hogs run behind him in key situations Saturday. Beside him is mammoth Mark Borkerman (6-5, 315, Jr.) at right guard. The rest of the line in center Dan Doughty (6-2, 290, Jr.), left guard Scott Davenport (6-2, 300, Jr.) and left tackle Bo Lacy (6-4, 302, Jr.) join forces with Andrews and Borkerman to give the Hogs one of the most physical lines in the SEC. When you add 6-5, 315 tight end Jason Peters to the mix, what you get is trouble for the Tigers if the Hogs get the running game going early.
"They have a great tight end," Chizik noted. "They have one of the best offensive tackles I've seen. They have a 315 pound tight end that will knock you into tomorrow. He'll knock you off the football. When 73 and 80 are side-by-side on the line of scrimmage you're looking at 700 pounds almost. Their offensive line is very physical. They come off the ball and they're very well coached."
Defensively, the Hogs have had trouble stopping anyone this season. Giving up a league worst 252 passing yards per game and 10th in the league in total defense allowing 378 yards per game, this group has the talent to improve those numbers greatly as the season progresses. If that is to happen, the guys up front will have to play better than they have through four games.
Defensive tackle Jermaine Brooks (6-3, 310, Sr.) is the leader of the group and along with Raymond House (6-3, 276, Sr.) they form a capable tandem in the middle for the Hogs. At the end position is where the question marks abound with senior Gavin Walls (6-2, 225) and sophomore Elliott Harris (6-4, 265) holding down the starting spots with Justin Scott (6-2, 260, Jr.) and Keith Turner (6-3, 255, Jr.) also seeing extensive playing time.
The linebacker spots are in very capable hands with junior Tony Bua (5-11, 218) the starter at wolf linebacker. On the year he is second on the team with 42 tackles and leads the Razorbacks with four tackles for losses and two interceptions. In the middle big sophomore Jeb Huckeba (6-4, 235) has emerged as a possible future star for the Hogs. He has 24 tackles through four games. On the strong side dependable Caleb Miller (6-3, 220, Jr.) has 32 tackles and leads the team with two sacks.
A telling stat for this defense through four games is that junior free safety Ken Hamlin (6-2, 197) leads the team in tackles with 43 stops, including 26 solos. That is a high number even for someone as active as Hamlin. Just as busy is junior strong safety Jimmy Beasley (5-11, 196). With 35 tackles and one sack, he teams with Hamlin to bring pressure at the line of scrimmage. While they help a great deal on the run, their presence creates a problem in the pass defense and that is where the Hogs have been exploited.
If not for a pair of excellent cornerbacks, Arkansas would be in real trouble against a team that can throw the ball a high level of skill. Junior Lawrence Richardson (5-10, 188) and sophomore Ahmad "Batman" Carroll (5-11, 190) can cover with the best, but because they are left on an island for much of the game they can't afford to make mistakes and that is what they have done at times this season. If Auburn can take advantage of mistakes in the secondary it will be a long day for the Hogs.
One thing that works in Auburn's favor this weekend is the roles are reversed in this series for the first time in a while. Every season since 1998 the Hogs have had an off-week before playing the Tigers. But this year it is Auburn that had the open date and that should pay dividends near the end of Saturday's game.