HOGS in a rush to resume
FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks (4-3, 1-3) are coming off a much-needed bye week, and head coach Sam Pittman said he feels his team is in good shape for its return to SEC play on Saturday against Auburn.
“I feel like we are as healthy as can be going into this game,” Pittman said. “We know that they [Auburn] have a lot of good players and are really talented. So, we’re looking forward to playing them.”
Auburn (3-4, 1-3) has lost three in a row and is also coming off a bye week following a 48-34 loss to the Ole Miss Rebels on Oct. 15.
Pittman said Auburn’s recent downturn is no cause for complacency for an Arkansas program that has lost its past six matchups with Auburn.
“We haven’t beat them since I’ve been here,” said Pittman, who is 0-2 against Auburn. “For them to come back against Ole Miss … and make that a close, good football game on the road tells you a lot about the coaching staff and the kids believing in them by playing extremely hard.”
Kickoff at Jordan-Hare Stadium this Saturday in Auburn, Ala., will be at 11 a.m. and can be seen on the SEC Network.
KEEPING OFFENSIVE BALANCE
The Razorbacks are averaging 488.6 yards of total offense through 7 games to rank 6th in the SEC and 14th in the FBS, but Arkansas’ 240.0 rushing average ranks second in the SEC and 9th in the FBS.
Sophomore Raheim "Rocket" Sanders (870 rushing, 9 TDs; Tommy Land photo) leads the SEC and ranks No. 8 in the FBS with 124.3 yards per game.
“I believe you have to run the ball well to have success,” Pittman said. “I know a lot of teams are throwing it and having a lot of success, but the way our team is built I feel we have to run the ball in order to have success.”
As well as the Razorbacks run the ball, they are averaging more yards passing (248.6) behind QB KJ Jefferson (1,467 yards, 14 TDs, 1 INT). Jefferson is coming off a 367-yard passing day in a 52-35 win over BYU on Oct. 15.
“I think we opened up the game plan a little bit more last game,” Pittman said. “We can throw, and we can catch, especially when we’re unpredictable about what we’re doing on early downs. I think that helped us against BYU."
Pittman said he believes the offense will continue to improve as the season moves forward.
“As long as we continue to do well on third downs and hold onto the football, I think we’ll like how our offense looks," Pittman said. "I certainly do right now.”
The Razorbacks face an Auburn defense that yields 391 yards of total offense per game while also giving up 204.4 rushing yards per game, ranking last in the SEC and 119th of 131 FBS teams.
PREPARING FOR TANK
Auburn offense has sputtered, averaging 22.3 points and 207.6 yards passing.
The Tigers have relied primarily on RB Tank Bigsby and Oregon transfer Robby Ashford (6-3, 212; Hoover, Ala.) at quarterback.
Ashford (1,104 passing, 4 TDs, 5 interceptions) took over at QB after a 41-12 loss to Penn State in September and is the Tiger’s second-leading rusher (310 yards, 4 TDs). Ashford is coming off a 35-yard, 2-touchdown performance against Ole Miss last Saturday.
“He [Ashford] gets a lot of designed runs but can also get outside of the pocket and run the ball that way, which we are very concerned about,” Pittman said. “He’s got a strong arm, but he’s most dangerous when the receivers are covered downfield and he takes off.”
Bigsby (6-0, 213; Lagrange, Ga.) has rushed for 524 yards and 6 TDs, including 157 yards vs. Ole Miss, after rushing for 1,099 yards and 10 TDs last season and 834 yards and 5 TDs in 2020. Bigsby has also caught 47 passes for 365 yards in his Auburn career.
“I always liked Bigsby,” Pittman said. “I think he’s a really great player who breaks a lot of tackles. The emphasis this week for us is to try and get him down before he gets started. If he can get 3 to 4 yards on his own, he’s hard to bring down. We need to keep him as close to the line of scrimmage as possible.”
Arkansas’ defense ranks 11th in the SEC in both scoring defense (32.6 ppg) as well as total defense (457.7 ypg). The Razorbacks are 64th nationally in rushing defense (142.0 ypg) and 128th of 131 FBS teams in passing yardage allowed (315.7 ypg).