FAYETTEVILLE – Gus Malzahn, the former Arkansas Razorbacks offensive coordinator and state champion high school via Springdale, no longer head coaches Auburn.
Chad Morris, the former Arkansas head coach, no longer coordinates Auburn’s offense.
But Auburn’s key skill components, quarterback Bo Nix and running back Tank Bigsby, and All-American place-kicker Anders Carlson return against Arkansas, 4-2, 1-2 in the SEC.
First-year Auburn Coach Bryan Harsin’s 4-2, 1-1 in the SEC Tigers visit Reynolds Razorback Stadium for Saturday’s 11 a.m. CBS televised homecoming SEC West game.
“The offense hasn’t changed much,” Arkansas junior nickel back Greg Brooks said Tuesday evening after practice. “They’re good players all around.”
Especially those same ones. Nix passed for one touchdown and rushed for another accounting 217 yards total offense while Bigsby netted 146 rushing yards and a touchdown in Auburn’s controversial 30-28 victory over Arkansas last year in Auburn, Ala.
“We just have to read our keys and play our brand of football – fast and physical,” Brooks said. “We can’t let Bo Nix get out of the pocket. He’s a good player when that happens. When it comes to the running back, we just have to wrap up and make tackles.”
Arkansas senior Preseason All-America linebacker Grant Morgan put it bluntly.
“We’ve got to be able to stop the run,” Morgan said. “And it starts with Bo and it starts with Bigsby. The offensive line returns four guys. They are real big, and real physical. They like to run downhill.”
The Hogs defense, their strong part for a 4-0 start, obviously wasn’t fast or physical enough in Arkansas’ 52-51 down to a 2-point conversion play loss last week at Ole Miss.
Ole Miss pass-run quarterback Matt Corral orchestrated 611 yards of total offense including 324 yards rushing mostly divvied among running backs Henry Parrish, Snoop Conner and quarterback Corral.
“We’re just not playing our brand of football,” Brooks said, vowing that will change.
Morgan said defensive coordinator Barry Odom and his position coach, linebackers coach Michael Scherer and fellow defensive assistants, can only do so much scheming the defense back to prominence.
“I know our goal is to stop the run, but at the end of the day it isn’t based on Barry Odom stopping the run,” Morgan said. “It isn’t based on Michael Scherer stopping the run. It’s based on our players being able to do what we’ve been taught: to stop the run.”
The Hogs can only hope Saturday they are just up against Auburn and not incompetent officiating.
Last year what should have been an Arkansas recovered fumble, when Nix attempted to stop the clock bounced backwards was ruled incomplete. It allowed Carlson to kick a game-winning field goal with seven seconds left.
Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman apparently prefers the Hogs using the present rather than the past “bad call” for motivation. They followed suit.
“It went on our record as a loss,” Morgan said. “We don’t make excuses saying it could have been. If the fans want to use it as motivation saying they stole a game from us then go for it. Use it as motivation. We’re here trying to win every game that we can this year.”
Speaking of fans, Pittman, noting the impetus that the Reynolds Razorback Stadium sold-out crowd gave Arkansas in its Sept. 9 40-21 thrashing of then No. 15 Texas and the impetus that a 93,000 sold-out crowd gave Georgia in the now No. 1 Bulldogs, 37-0 rout of Arkansas on Oct. 2 in Athens, Ga., has begged Arkansas fans to arrive abundantly loud for the 11 a.m. kickoff.
“The Texas game in my recent memory was probably the loudest that stadium has been since I’ve been here,” Arkansas fifth-year senior offensive lineman Ty Clary of Fayetteville said Tuesday. “Definitely, it affected the game. They were loud enough to impact their (Texas) offense a little bit. We definitely got energy off it. We were loving playing out in that crowd.”
Brooks remarked, “I feel like the crowd’s a big factor. It’s definitely going to get us pumped up since we have an 11 a.m. game.”
Arkansas’ offense, 676 yards total offense against Ole Miss, certainly comes pumped after sophomore quarterback KJ Jefferson completed 25 of 35 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns and rushed three touchdowns among 85 yards on 20 carries.
ESPN, telecasting the Arkansas vs. Ole Miss game, gushed over Corral’s Heisman Trophy candidacy contrasted with fainter praise for Jefferson’s performance.
“He (Jefferson) is my Heisman vote,” Morgan said. “I don’t care what anyone else thinks. When you’e neck and neck with one of the favorites in the Heisman voting and you’re not ever mentioned in the top even 20 of Heisman voting, then I don’t understand what it is. I think if we were a top 5 team right now and KJ had the exact same stats, he’d be a Heisman candidate.”