Auburn is looking to bounce back from its second loss of the season, while Arkansas still searches for its first SEC victory when the teams collide Saturday in Fayetteville.
The No. 21 Tigers (5-2, 3-1 SEC) plummeted 11 spots in the poll after last week’s 27-23 loss at LSU, when Auburn blew a 20-0 lead early in the second quarter. Arkansas, meanwhile, is 0-3 in conference play and coming off a 41-9 road loss to No. 1 Alabama. Both coaches were maintaining an optimistic outlook.
“It’s our first SEC loss,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said of the setback to LSU. “We still control our own destiny. We’ve got to win. We’ve got to win out. And that’s what’s on our mind. I’m frustrated, but it’s not the end of the world. We’re going to finish this season strong, and there’s no doubt in my mind our players feel that same way.”
Malzahn said the loss at LSU was his responsibility.
“Blowing a 20-point lead was tough to take, and I just want to say this,” Malzahn said.
“I’ve got good coaches, I’ve got good players, and any time that happens, that’s on the head coach. That’s on me. That can’t happen again, it won’t happen again, but I take full responsibility.”
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema pointed out that the Razorbacks (2-4, 0-3) were 2-4 heading into their home game with Auburn in 2015. Arkansas won that game 54-46 in four overtimes to start a run in which the Razorbacks went 6-1 for an 8-5 finish
. “We battled back, kind of starting with this game against Auburn, so I’m excited,” Bielema said.
Beating the Tigers in an offensive shootout might be more of a challenge for the Razorbacks this time around. Arkansas has scored a total of 31 points in its last two games and will likely be without senior quarterback Austin Allen for the second consecutive game.
Redshirt freshman Cole Kelley started in place of Allen against Alabama and completed 23 of 42 passes for 200 yards, with one touchdown pass and one interception.
Allen, who suffered an injured right shoulder in a loss at South Carolina on Oct. 7, hasn’t been officially ruled out for the Auburn game, but Bielema said Monday that he is probably “a couple of weeks away” from returning. Malzahn said he expects Arkansas to play hard.
“They’re a team right now with their back against the wall,” he said. “We know we’re going to get their best.”
Auburn sophomore quarterback Jarrett Stidham struggled in the loss to LSU, completing 9 of 26 attempts for 165 yards and a touchdown. For the season, however, Stidham has completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 1,510 yards and eight touchdowns with two interceptions. Stidham’s passing complements a bruising Auburn running attack led by junior Kerryon Johnson.
Johnson, who missed two games earlier this season with a hamstring injury, has run for 476 yards and seven touchdowns on 82 carries in the past three games. “They’re a good football team,” Bielema said. “I think their quarterback is a very, very good player who throws a very good football. (Johnson) is a very explosive player.”
Arkansas’ defense has struggled against the run, allowing its four Power Five opponents to gain an average of 236.8 yards per game on the ground. In last season’s meeting, Auburn rushed for 543 yards -- the most by an Arkansas opponent -- and beat the Razorbacks 56-3.
“It would be fair to say that from the time they walked off the field last year to where we are they’ve made themselves aware of it,” Bielema said.
Arkansas’ running attack, on the other hand, has been inconsistent. The Razorbacks rushed for 27 yards on 29 carries against Alabama behind a revamped offensive line that also allowed five sacks by the Crimson Tide.
Auburn has held four of its seven opponents to 100 yards or less rushing and no team has rushed for 200. Arkansas quarterbacks have been sacked 18 times this season. Auburn’s defense has been credited with 19 sacks, led by 6.5 from junior outside linebacker Jeff Holland.