Monday, October 28, 2013

The Auburn Realist: The Arkansas Preview

I didn't quite take last week off. I did take the opportunity to talk about my expectations for the rest of the season, namely that I expect Auburn to go undefeated from here on. Yes. I really said that, despite my early predictions that had Auburn at an 8-4 record. I had penciled in a close loss at MSU and a win at LSU. I had penned in a run away win for Arkansas State and a walk away from Washington State and Ole Miss. Pretty close. Kinda. Give me a break, we didn't even have a starting QB at the time!

A lot has changed since August, and even the odds-makers will admit that. Case in point, see Auburn as a top 10. Did they see that? No. They predicted Auburn to finish 6th in the West. So, before you judge my words too hard, understand that expectations have to change.

That being said, I wouldn't be totally surprised if Alabama wins in Auburn, but it's a solid 50/50 game.

I'm getting ahead of myself, aren't I? And I expect this week to be a wake up call for the Tiger's along those same lines.

First things first. Auburn will be a terrible Arkansas team, but not before the Hogs make it appear to be a game. For a minute or two....

While the Hogs did get out to a 3-0 record against over-matched non-conference opponents, the fact is that only Southern miss has failed to score a touchdown against them. LA-Lafayette and Samford were both able to put 2 TDs on the board, and neither one of them did so in garbage time. Strangely enough, the only garbage time the Hogs have played were head beatings by SCAR and Bama. The lone highlights of the year were keeping it close against a completely depleted Florida team and staying reasonably close against TAMU, though TAMU put it on cruise in the first half.

The stats don't lie. The Hogs can't score points. 107th in the Nation. They give up a lot of paints as well, averaging almost 31. The biggest problem, in my eyes, is the inability to throw the ball. The Hogs are virtually the WORST in the nation passing the ball. Luckily, their run game is a decent one. But, truth be told, they padded those stats heavily in the front of the schedule.

Auburn, on the other hand, had a tune up game against FAU this week. They showcased the run game, again. And while there wasn't much passing, Johnson made a few nice tosses to Coates, who now leads the nation in yards per reception.

So, what can we expect? Let's get to it.

Offense
Who will start this week? That's a huge question. I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if Johnson makes his first career SEC start. After all, Marshall clearly needs a little time to heal up and get fresh for the back half of the season. Arkansas sets up very well for a well balanced Auburn attack. They are just soft enough to give a cushion to Johnson. But, then again, Marshall is a competitor and I could see him making the start.

Regardless of who starts, the fact remains that this Auburn rushing attack could, at a minimum, win the game in a "3 yards and a cloud of dust" scenario. But, we all know that wouldn't be the case. Auburn would likely pound the Hogs into submission and go into the half up a meager 21-0, owning time of possession.

CAP would be my guess at the feature back of the day. I could see Mason making the start and showcasing his ability in the first drive or two, but down the stretch, CAP would be the man. We saw a lot of carries from number 44 last Saturday, but we still haven't seen the big numbers performance out of him. Some of that could be ball security issues from earlier this season, even if it was 1 fumble. In fact, I am giving very serious thought to adding him to my fantasy lineup this weekend. Would be a sneaky pick....CAP gets two TDs and another 100 yard game. Don't be surprised if he breaks a long one!

Regardless of what QB starts, I expect there to be a continued dedication to improving the deep pass. Like I stated earlier, Coates is on the verge of a real breakout. If he can continue to hold on to the rock, that is. And, honestly, on one of his 2 TDs, he nearly dropped the ball. Go back and watch his first TD from Johnson. Yep. Wide open and he nearly dumped the ball. That being said, he will get a target or two, but I really expect him to draw the best corner the Hogs have plus safety help over the top. Look for Marcus Davis to really get involved in the slot and/or Uzomah off the line or slot. The Uzomah seam route will be there at least twice this Saturday and I expect that to be a TD. I would expect no more than 15 pass attempts in this game for any 1 QB. If Marshall does start, I don't expect him to run very much. I see a solid 200 pass yards from the QBs.

Grant will continue to see some increase in work. FAU has a fairly good defense and he absolutely shredded them Saturday as they were looking inside on the zone read. The Hogs will be in a similar situation Saturday. Expect an early 3rd quarter jet sweep to go the distance. Not many touches for Grant, but good YPC.

Defense
Not much has gone right for the Hogs. Their run game offers them their only opportunity to stay in this game. And seeing how they have not been able to score points against good defenses, even if they are top tier, the fact remains that they cannot and will not score the 35 points needed to stay in the game for 4 quarters.

Expect Frost to get extensive playing time at middle linebacker. With the run game being the primary threat, I don't see Holland being on the field nearly as much.

Expect the deadly safety combination from Auburn to play up or near the box for much of the game and to become heavily involved in run defense.

The real question is, will the Hogs be able to hold on to the ball. Even if they can't score, if they can at least hold on to the ball without 3 and outs or turnovers, they have a chance to go into the locker room at half with some confidence. If they turn the ball over, even once, the game will be over.

Auburn gets a turnover and holds the hogs to under 300 total yards. Don't expect a lot of sacks early, as the Hogs will mainly power it down with the run game.

The Line
Many people had thought that Auburn would sleep on FAU over the big win in College Station. Sadly for them, that didn't happen. Auburn came out extremely sharp in the first half and finished out the first half hard, despite a few busted plays. The real question will be, after the back slapping coach gave them this past Saturday, will they muster the fortitude to do it this week too? Everyone has said they passed the maturity test. I am not so sure. It would have been the upset of all upsets had they lost to FAU, simply because of the disparity of talent. But, Arkansas is an SEC team, despite what their record says. This is a scary game, in that Arkansas has always surprised Auburn. Always. If Auburn goes into town too confident, then Arkansas could easily make it a game very early. That's not where Auburn needs to play. They need to come out sharp and dominate the line early. The score doesn't have to be a run away at half, but the time of possession does.

What the coaching staff does have going for it is pointing out that the Hogs have owned Auburn the last 5 years, going 4-1 with the lone win in 2010. These Tigers are eager to permanently get out of the bottom half of the SEC west. Bur, that will be after a very physical Arkansas running attack hits them in the mouth in the first quarter.
Auburn 35-10.