The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: One of the most high-profile games of the college football weekend pits the seventh-ranked Auburn Tigers against the 12th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks in an SEC showdown.
Arkansas enters this tilt with a 4-1 record, the best start for the Razorbacks under head coach Bobby Petrino. Last time out, Petrino's team bested Texas A&M on a neutral field by a 24-17 final, and the competition level increases this weekend. The lone loss to date came to then-top-ranked Alabama by four points in a game that Arkansas all but gave away.
As for Auburn, it enters with a 6-0 record, and a 37-34 victory over Kentucky last weekend marked the third three-point win of the season for the squad. Gene Chizik's group knocked off South Carolina a few weeks ago, the same group of Gamecocks that just upset Alabama. Clearly, the SEC is up for grabs, and Auburn is in tremendous position to contend for a title.
Auburn owns a 10-8-1 series lead over Arkansas, but the Razorbacks cruised to a 44-23 victory in last season's meeting.
Arkansas is fortunate to have one of the nation's truly elite quarterbacks at the helm in Ryan Mallett, who has completed 69.3 percent of his passes for 1,748 yards and 13 touchdowns with only six interceptions. Mallett played poorly against Alabama, but he has been strong in the other four outings. Greg Childs paces the Razorbacks with 28 catches, while Joe Adams is tops with 408 receiving yards. As for the ground attack, Knile Davis leads the way with 203 yards, a modest total.
While Arkansas is scoring 30.0 ppg and racking up 462.8 total ypg, the team has been able to limit opponents to 15.0 ppg and 302.4 total ypg. The Razorbacks have gotten the job done against the run, as they are yielding a mere 3.5 yards per rushing attempt. The pass defense has been solid when considering the fact that the team is permitting only 167.8 ypg with four touchdowns, but opponents are averaging 13.3 yards per completion and that figure can stand some improvement.
Anthony Leon tops Arkansas with eight TFLs, while Jake Bequette has recorded four sacks.
The Razorbacks posted 442 total yards against Texas A&M last time out, and Mallett completed 27-of-38 passes for 310 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Cobi Hamilton stepped up with five catches for 98 yards and a score, while Davis rushed for 82 yards.
"He's a guy that can go get the ball when it's up in the air," says Petrino of Hamilton. "We have got to continue to give him touches and he's going to make plays."
The fact that Arkansas was able to limit Texas A&M to 324 yards was impressive. It certainly deserves mention that the Razorbacks held the Aggies under 26 minutes of possession time and limited them to 4-of-17 success on third down conversion attempts.
"We got a lot of criticism in the offseason, and we went out and worked our butts off," said safety Tramain Thomas after the A&M game. "The hard work is just paying off for us right and we are going to take it all the way."
Auburn's offense is more than capable of challenging the Arkansas defense, especially with Cam Newton at quarterback. The dual threat has rushed for 672 yards and nine touchdowns while passing for 1,138 yards and 12 scores. The Heisman hopeful has led the Tigers to 36.7 ppg and 483.0 total ypg. The ground attack accounts for 276.0 ypg for Auburn, while the passing game depends on the talents of wideout Darvin Adams.
Opponents are scoring 21.3 ppg against Auburn, which is allowing 334.8 total ypg. The Tigers have been tremendous against the run, limiting foes to 95.7 ypg at a clip of just 2.8 yards per carry. The pass defense has been fairly solid, and while foes have posted a high number of yards through the air, the big plays have been kept to a minimum.
Wes Byrum's 24-yard field goal as time expired lifted Auburn over Kentucky last time out. Newton had four rushing touchdowns and 198 yards on the ground in that tilt, while also passing for 210 yards.
"When the game is on the line he wants the ball in his hands and that's what the quarterback position should do," said Chizik of Newton. "I couldn't be more proud of the guy."
Kentucky only managed 336 yards against Auburn last week, a surprisingly low total considering the fact that the Wildcats finished with 34 points. The Tigers yielded fewer than four yards per rushing attempts and fewer than 10 yards per pass completion. While that effort was solid, it is time to move the focus to the dangerous Arkansas offense.
"They throw the ball more than they run the ball, but they were able to run it on us last year," said Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof of Arkansas. "That's something that we have to make sure we do a good job on is limiting their running game."