Auburn travels to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to take on the Razorbacks in a critical SEC west matchup today. Both teams enter the contest with a 4-2 record and hopes of a strong second half of the season.
The winner of this contest has a chance at a nine-win regular season, while the loser may be staring at something closer to a 6-6 record.
Auburn looks to bounce back from a 24-point loss at home to the now number one ranked team in the nation, and Arkansas wants to get back on track after consecutive losses to Georgia and Ole Miss.
Take a look at three things that will play a huge part in whether or not the Tigers can earn an SEC win before heading into their upcoming bye week.
Contain KJ Jefferson
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson’s emergence as a dynamic dual-threat has been a driving force in the Razorbacks’ surprising start to the season.
Jefferson leads the Razorbacks in rushing touchdowns with five on the season and is also second in the SEC in yards per pass attempt.
The Arkansas signal caller is a stronger runner than passer at this point, but his ability to impact the game carrying the football opens up big opportunities through the air.
The Auburn defense will have to account for Jefferson as a runner on every play and still remain sound in coverage.
This will be a tall task for a defense that has struggled with allowing big plays through the air all season.
The Tigers must slow down the Razorbacks rushing attack and force Jefferson to make plays from the pocket to win this game.
Establish the running game
For this Auburn team to score points, they must be effective running the football. There are six games worth of evidence that the passing attack is not consistent enough to produce results against good competition.
The Tigers’ two most explosive players are tailbacks Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter. Auburn’s offensive plan must focus on getting these two players the ball early and often.
In Auburn’s two SEC games they have yet to attempt 30 rushes in a game while throwing at least 43 pass attempts. Those numbers probably need to be reversed for the Tigers to win today.
Auburn’s offensive line must create some rushing lanes, quarterback Bo Nix should be involved with quarterback runs, and the Tiger tailbacks have to make a few Razorbacks miss to jump start this offense.
Auburn needs to commit to running the ball today if they hope to get this SEC road win.
Auburn has now played games against three Power 5 opponents. In those matchups, the Tigers have three total points in the first quarter.
Auburn has played from behind in every game against real competition this season. The Tigers really need to break that trend today.
As the visiting team today, it is critical to not allow Arkansas to get off to a hot start and incite the rowdy home crowd.
Auburn needs to score points on its opening possession and avoid giving up big plays early on defense and special teams. This Auburn team has shown great fight throughout the season, but playing with a lead makes it much easier to dictate how the game unfolds.
The Tigers must come out fast, physical and ready to attack to create an edge in this game. If they can do that, Auburn will put itself in position to leave Fayetteville victorious.
Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers.