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It can't believe it's almost time! If you haven't done so, please go read up on my WWAAAYYY Too Early Predictions. Here is the last of those 4. Check it out!
It isn't game week. I know this. But the trigger finger is itchy. Thanks to Ole Bielema, I am ready for this game. Did you read what he said? Well, check out Brandon Marcello's artice on al.com. What did he say?
"If you see someone videotaping tell them that ain't right," Bielema said, according to ArkansasNews.com. "Especially if they're wearing an Auburn shirt, knock the (expletive) out of them."
That man has no love for Auburn, that's no secret. Actually, come to think of it, he has spent more time running his mouth than he has running his team, it seems. For all the noise he made last year, he backed it up with 0-9 in the SEC.
I guess it's a tough world for Brett. I think more people expected a decent turn around in his first year. Malzahn didn't do him any favors last year by wrapping up the biggest turn around in college football. I think a lot of people thought that, despite a depleted roster, Bielema could make a quick turnaround. I sure did, considering the work he did at Wisconsin. But, after more thought, it was really Alvarez who had built Wisconsin. Anyway, on to this game.
Understanding the Hogs offensive woes in 2013 is beyond me. They allowed 8 sacks all year, which was good for 3rd in the nation. They had a QB that had a lot of experience and had played well. They continue to have great running backs. They were 100 yards from having 2 1,000 yard rushers in Collins and Williams. But they had a -9 turnover ratio. That was mostly thanks to the 10 INTs to 13 TDs tossed by Allen. And, though they had all these yards in their two backs, they had a total of 8 TDs among them. So, they could move the ball between the 20s, but simply could not cash in.
On the other side of the ball, they allowed a whopping 30 points per game. While Flowers was a huge surprise on the d-line (mostly since he had managed to escape Alabama and Auburn), the rest of the defense struggled. I guess it really isn't a surprise. With the offense struggling to score, the defense was forced to play a lot of plays. Fact is, the most points they scored all season was a 34-14 win against La-Lafeyette to start the season. They went on to score 16 total TDs against SEC competition on their 0-9 SEC slide. Though I can't help but feel bad, as they had 9 straight SEC games.
So, were do they sit now? Perhaps their best weapon has graduated, that being WR Herndon, which scored more TDs than they two backs. It leaves them with question marks at receiver for the first time in many year. They bring back 3 of their offensive line, which had done a great job in 2013. They return both backs and quarterback, which is only offense in the SEC to do so. But, they lose their center, full back, and two of their outside weapons including the aforementioned Herndon. On defense, they lost Flowers, the lone force. Their biggest loss? Believe it or not, Hocker, their kicker.
I think we know the story on who Auburn is returning. Across the board, they return one of the best offenses in the country. On defense, they lost half their defensive backfield and a NFL pick in Dee Ford.
While we all have been excited for months about the possibilities this team has, I have begun to worry the last few days. Initially, I didn't think Arkansas had a chance in this game, but the injuries and suspensions have begun to pile up. It started weeks ago with Marshall's "citation." So, he won't start. And, to be honest, I don't agree with letting him play at all. I was very critical of Sumlin's decision to play Johnny Football after the first half. I think Marshall should sit out the whole game. And, besides, Johnson needs some SEC experience. Add on Mincy to the list for his possession charge after speaking at a DARE event.
Then Kozan, an All-SEC guy goes out for the season with back surgery. Even though Auburn has recruited well, you don't replace guys like that. Just like you don't "just replace" Robinson. But, ok. No big deal. Then Therezie, who is perhaps my favorite player, has his eligibility up in the air. Having Therezie back there with two new corners is imperative. And, of course, Lawson is out with knee surgery.
This is the SEC West. It isn't the kill shots that you have to be worried about. It's the nicks and cuts from a whole season. And here we are with multiple IMPACT players out. It has to make you worry. Even if Arkansas is going to be the cellar dweller of the West.
Now, predicting these early games is always hard. But someone has to try and predict it. I don't expect it to be close, but here goes!
Expect a lot of run plays from both teams. Arkansas runs because they have two great backs capable of toting the rock 20+ a game. Bielema wants to run first and throw as little as possible. While Allen is capable of throwing the ball just fine, a very hostile Jordan-Hare stadium during the first quarter isn't the time to break in a QB, even if he is experienced. On the flip side, Auburn will be breaking in it's thousandth new QB (it seems) on opening day. Chances are, Johnson will play only the first drive. Expect a heavy dose of body blows from CAP. The clock runs fast with the runs, though each team has to punt at least once. But, don't be surprised by either team setting up a nice play action pass deep ball. The problem is, Arkansas doesn't have the receivers and Auburn does.
Auburn 7-0 at the end of the first
The body blows from CAP continue, but with a slight twist. Corey Grant gets loose, as he frequently does, for a long run. Arkansas still struggles to score, though they move the ball, putting up a field goal early in the 2nd or right before the half.
Auburn 14-3 at the end of the half
Bielema makes adjustments and the Arkansas offense makes it into the endzone.
It will be tough sledding for the Arkansas defense. Even without knowing who the QB is, expect the Auburn offense to be fairly efficient, though I don't expect it to be quite explosive. History has shown us that Malzahn likes to spread the rock around his running backs early. Expect CAP to tote the rock 20 times, 10 carries for Grant, Peryton Barber for another 10, and the redshirt pulled off of Roc Thomas with 10 carries of his own, though they will be late. I think the biggest thing we will see in the 3rd quarter will be a special teams touchdown. Auburn has some real playmakers returning kicks. I wouldn't be surprised at all for someone to run back the kick following the Arkansas TD. Sadly, I do see Auburn giving away a turnover, and having a drive stall which leads to a field goal.
Auburn leads 24-10
It's a kickoff game between two divisional foes. As such, I expect the 4th quarter to be a barrage of scoring, though one side will certainly benefit more. Arkansas struggles early in the 4th as Auburn runs up another quick TD, making it 32-10, going for a 2 point conversion to pay Bielema back for his sleight of hand swinging gate play last year. After a Hogs drive stalls out, Auburn picks up another field goal making it 35-10. On the last drive of the game, Arkansas puts a meaningless TD on the board.
Auburn wins 35-17
Player of the game? None other than Reese Dismukes, who, despite having several new starters on the line, steamrolls the Arkansas defense. The Auburn running game puts up a lot of yards spread over 4 different backs. Corey Grant records 100+ yards on under 10 carries with 1 TD.
Jeremy Johnson plays the entire game, throwing 1 TD and 1 INT for 200 yards. He also puts up 50 yards of rushing.
The Auburn defense looks a little shaky in this one, but only because of the injuries and suspensions. The LB play will be much improved from the last few years. The secondary makes little mistakes that keep the chains moving, but manage to prevent the big pass plays.
The D-line will struggle to find it's identity, but I still expect big things.
The big position to watch? Kicker. That's right, we will have a kid pulling all 3 duties for the first time since Duval! WOW! That's been 15 years.
I do give honorable mention to the slot receiver. Will Auburn find a playmaker in the slot? I said earlier in the year during my A-Day Observations that the slot position will make or break the offense.