Examining the matchup
Yet this kind of stuff lures me to Cincinnati every year:
Anyway, let's get to some Auburn-Arkansas chatter:
POSITION BY POSITION:
Casey Dick isn't exactly a major-league player, but he has a grasp of the offense and an arm with some power. Auburn? Doesn't have a guy like that. That's 0-for-2 if you're scoring at home.
Michael Smith leads the SEC in all-purpose yards because he's a very good runner and a very good receiver. Ben Tate brings the noise each week. Smith brings that and the lightning, too.
Neither team has a wealth of talent here. Tommy Trott is a good player, but doesn't get many chances. Arkansas has two good ones in wideout Joe Adams and tight end D.J. Williams.
It's clear that blocking out of a two-point stance hasn't been easy for the Tigers this season. They made plenty of mistakes last week. Still, Arkansas' line has been really poor so far. Auburn's group has been better than that.
Even with Sen'Derrick Marks out because of injury, Auburn's defense front played well last week. Tez Doolittle and Zach Clayton have been productive of late, adding punch to a group that didn't need much more.
No big names. Lots of big-time production. Merrill Johnson played the best game of his career last week and Joshua Bynes has been excellent in the middle. The Tigers are loaded.
Cornerback Jerraud Powers probably play this week, but that doesn't affect Auburn's allure relative to Arkansas'. Walt McFadden and Zac Etheridge are steady. Even Mike McNeil made some big plays last week.
Who knows? Neither team is kicking well. Both teams are punting well. Return games are a wash. I'll give Auburn the check based on the fact that Byrum can't really be this bad. Right?
Bob Petrino was wildly successful at Louisville, but his value hasn't been as obvious in the NFL and at Arkansas. My guess is that Petrino will engineer major improvement. Tuberville has been at a pretty high level for a while, though the coach's personnel decisions could use some sharpening.
- Arkansas TB Michael Smith (No. 21)
5-7, 175, Jr.
Last week: 20 carries for 133 yards, 6 catches for 43 yards, 1 TD (vs. Florida)
Scouting report: Skill-position guys don't come much tougher than Smith, who rarely takes breaks from Arkansas possessions. He's very fast -- coaches timed Smith at 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash two years ago -- and has excellent hands. Smith has a good feel for the passing game. His weakness is probably what makes him so good: Size. Smith is small and doesn't look imposing. It's obvious that he's worked hard to refine other aspects of his game to overcome the genetic dispositions. He's also an honor roll student. If he was 5-11, Smith would be a major NFL Draft property.
- Auburn WR Chris Slaughter (No. 23)
6-4, 179, Soph.
Last week: 1 catch for 7 yards (vs. Vanderbilt)
Scouting report: Slaughter was a major prospect from the 2005 high-school class who spent a year in prep school before enrolling at Auburn last season. He has a reputation for being a slacker, which he acknowledged recently. That's the first time Slaughter has described himself as such, which may preface a change in performance. He always has had some excellent tools: Average speed, good leaping ability, good feel for one-on-one matchups. The downside is that he still runs incorrect routes. If he begins taking pride in pre-game preparation, Slaughter could emerge as the go-to presence Auburn desperately needs.
- Auburn DL Zach Clayton (No. 98)
6-3, 290, Soph.
Last week: 4 tackles including 2 for loss (vs. Vanderbilt)
Scouting report: Clayton was a nearly unknown prospect out of high school. He now is the team's most versatile defender. Clayton split time at tackle and end last week -- a very taxing mental challenge -- and impressed coaches with consistent productivity. Clayton isn't the most skilled player around, but he brings unusual fervor to the field. He has learned to use his hands to his advantage this season and has no problem getting nasty with players of all sizes. He's quiet on the field; it's all business.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
- Auburn offense
Arkansas' run defense is poor. Very poor. The team's last three major-conference opponents (Florida, Texas and Alabama) have racked up 814 rushing yards against this front. Auburn will be tempted to use those Ace formations and send tailback Ben Tate between the tackles ad naseum. Is that the plan? Who knows. One thing we know -- Auburn hasn't had much installation time since Tony Franklin's departure Wednesday afternoon. After all that talk from Franklin about how Auburn's offense needed to be dumbed down for three consecutive weeks, it's unlikely this staff will be adding complexity over such a short period of time. Expect what you saw during the first half against Vanderbilt. Running should be the theme.
- Auburn defense
The Tigers have put together several thorough performances against SEC teams this season. Last week was no exception. Conceding 14 points to Vanderbilt in Nashville is not a problem. This week should be easier. Arkansas is the least refined opponent Auburn has faced this season. Bobby Petrino's team allows more sacks than any other SEC team and has struggled with turnovers lately. The key player is Michael Smith, who is a very talented back. Auburn must hold its wide positions to funnel Smith toward the middle. If he gets the corner, he's dangerous. Quarterback Casey Dick has been there a while. He's still only average. He prefers short passes. He doesn't take many risks. Smith is the only thing working for Arkansas right now. Auburn's defense is particularly good against the run.