FAYETTEVILLE – Two former Arkansas coaches and possibly rainy remnants of a hurricane await the 1-1 Razorbacks Saturday afternoon in Auburn, Ala.
So do the 13th-ranked Auburn Tigers, 1-1, in Saturday’s 3 p.m. SEC West game TV switched from the SEC Network to ESPN at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.
A 70 percent chance of thunderstorms courtesy of Hurricane Delta is predicted to rain on the Arkansas vs. Auburn parade. Auburn’s staff includes offensive coordinator Chad Morris, the head coach of these same Razorbacks in 2018 and 2019 until fired with 4-18 overall/0-14 SEC records with two SEC games left which Arkansas also lost.
Auburn’s head coach, Fort Smith native Gus Malzahn, coached Arkansas high school champion teams at Hughes, Shiloh Christian and Springdale and one controversial 2006 SEC West championship Razorbacks season in an at uneasy pairing situation with former Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt. Malzahn moved on to coordinate offenses at Tulsa, and Auburn and head coached Arkansas State in 2012 and Auburn since 2013 while throughout periodically touted as a candidate for the various Arkansas head coaching vacancies.
Current Razorbacks just associate Malzahn as Auburn’s coach.
Morris obviously is a different story. Many of these Razorbacks he recruited and others he coached inherited from Bret Bielema.
Whatever his pregame impact on these Hogs, they’ve been wise enough, likely at first-year Coach Sam Pittman’s advice, to downplay it.
““We’re not really focused on that right now,” senior left offensive tackle Myron Cunningham, a junior college transfer signed by the Morris regime for 2019. “We’re just coming out to practice every day trying to get better and focusing on beating Auburn this weekend.”
Razorbacks junior safety Joe Foucha, whose two interceptions in last Saturday’s 21-14 victory over Mississippi State earned him SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Week along with Razorbacks linebacker Bumper Pool’s 20 tackles, directly faces Morris’ offensive play-calling. So he naturally spoke more directly though still basically defense vs. offense.
“We’re going to be ready for whatever Coach Morris has ready to throw at us,” Foucha said. “We’re going to be all over it. That’s all I can say about that.”
Pittman, the Georgia offensive line coach from 2016-2019 opening this season against Georgia in the 37-10 loss on Sept. 26 in Fayetteville, said kicking off the game quickly erases emotions of players and old coaches facing each other.
“ I don’t know how Coach (Morris) will feel about it,” Pittman said,
“But I was the O-line coach at Georgia and we played them. So it’s not really a big deal. We won’t mention the fact that Coach Morris was the head coach here. They know it. Some of them probably loved him and some of them probably didn’t, just like any coach. We’re just trying to compete and win the football game.”
Malzahn coached his second Auburn game against the Arkansas State team he coached in 2012 said it does feel different right up to kickoff.
“Once the game starts, it’s just like any other game,” Malzahn said. “You do your job. Arkansas is coming off a big win. So it ought to be a good one.”
The Razorbacks broke a 20-game SEC losing streak upsetting Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss. while Auburn, a Sept. 26 winner at home over Kentucky, last Saturday was stifled, 27-6 in Athens, Ga. by the same great Georgia defense stifling Arkansas’ offense the previous week while Arkansas’ Barry Odom coordinated defense has surprised and Auburn’s Kevin Steele coordinated defense is always formidable, neither defense rates with Georgia’s last year deemed the nation’s best.
However a downpour and mud could hamper both attacks.
Arkansas appears particularly vulnerable. The Hogs have generated a paltry running game thus far and Preseason All-SEC running back Rakeem Boyd is iffy, as are top Arkansas receiver
Treylon Burks and top cornerback Montaric Brown from injuries exiting them during last week’s game.
An absent or impaired Boyd presents a challenge, but backup running back Trelon Smith, Arkansas’ leading rusher thus far, and its offensive line vow to do better.
“Obviously if it’s raining you’d like to run the ball a little more,” Pittman said. “So, it will give us a chance to prove we can run the ball.”
Georgia held Auburn to a pair of field goals and 39 net yards rushing, while Auburn quarterback Bo Nix playing catch-up threw 40 passes and completed 21 for 177 yards with an interception breaking a streak of 251 without a pick.
Thumb surgery repairing torn ligaments apparently will sideline All SEC Preseason first-team Auburn linebacker K.J. Britt.
Special teams, nearly always a factor, especially can become so in the rain.