FAYETTEVILLE — When Hugh Freeze returns to Razorback Stadium for Saturday’s Arkansas vs Auburn matchup, he’ll do so having already accomplished what will likely be one of Sam Pittman’s top priorities this offseason.
Low on numbers and talent, the first-year coach completely overhauled the Tigers’ offensive line through the portal and transfers could make up as many as four of their five starters up front for the 3 p.m. CT kickoff on the SEC Network.
“To have that many transfers come in and be playing that well together, I think it’s a tribute to their offensive line coach,” Pittman said about Auburn earlier this week. “Obviously they hit in the portal.”
Dillon Wade (Tulsa) and Gunner Britton (Western Kentucky) have essentially been full-time starters on the left side of Auburn’s offensive line, at tackle and guard, respectively, while JUCO transfer Izavion Miller (SW Mississippi C.C.) has locked down the right tackle spot.
Avery Jones (East Carolina) started the first seven games of the season at center before suffering an injury, opening the door for heralded freshman Connor Lew, who started the last two games. Those two are listed with an “or” on this week’s depth chart.
The only starting lineman Freeze inherited was right guard Kam Stutts, a fifth-year senior who was a reserve until last season. (Not in the starting lineup, aside from a spot start in Week 2, is Tulsa transfer Jaden Muskrat, a Bentonville West product.)
Example for Pittman to Follow?
Considering the Razorbacks’ struggles protecting KJ Jefferson and opening up holes in the run game – albeit some of that could be attributed to the scheme of former offensive coordinator Dan Enos – it wouldn’t be surprising if Sam Pittman tries to follow Hugh Freeze’s lead.
Arkansas may not need quite as dramatic of an influx of talent because it has recruited well – according to the recruiting rankings, at least – but it may need to add more than just the one it brought in this past cycle.
Although every scholarship offensive lineman on the roster could technically return to school in 2024 thanks to the bonus pandemic year, that is highly unlikely to happen.
Most notably, center Beaux Limmer is viewed as a legitimate pro prospect, with ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. ranking him as the eighth-best available center in the 2024 NFL Draft. Left guard Brady Latham is a fifth-year senior and fourth-year starter who could also choose to try his hand at the NFL. The same could be said about right guard Josh Braun, the Florida transfer who already has his degree and is married, but technically has two years of eligibility remaining.
The three players Arkansas has started at the two tackle spots are all youngsters – redshirt sophomore Devon Manuel, redshirt freshman Andrew Chamblee and sophomore Patrick Kutas – and have played as such.
The tackles’ struggles have been no secret all season, resulting in a few embarrassing blow-bys from opposing defensive ends that have resulted in sacks or hurries of KJ Jefferson.
On Friday’s “Locked on Auburn” podcast, Montgomery radio personality Darrell Dapprich essentially predicted Auburn would rack up between three and five sacks vs Arkansas, with jack linebacker Jalen McLeod going for a multi-sack day.
If nothing else, Pittman may be interested in adding some older, more veteran players to create competition on next year’s offensive line.
One player the Razorbacks seem to have zeroed in on is Michigan State transfer Keyshawn Blackstock, who entered the portal in the wake of Mel Tucker’s firing on Sept. 27.
A heralded JUCO prospect in the 2023 class and originally from Georgia, he was a backup left tackle for the Spartans and has received more than 20 offers since entering the portal. The Razorbacks extended an offer on Oct. 28 and are expected to host him on an official visit this weekend.
Arkansas has also offered a JUCO offensive lineman in Jaekwon Bouldin from Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C.
How to Watch Arkansas vs Auburn
Date: Saturday, Nov. 11
Location: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Kickoff Time and TV Schedule: 3 p.m. CT (SEC Network)
Announcers: Dave Neal (play-by-play), Derek Mason (color analyst), Alex Chappell (sideline reporter)
Arkansas’ Rankings: NR (AP) | NR (Coaches) | No. 50 (SP+) | No. 35 (FPI)
ESPN FPI: Arkansas has an 54.3% chance to win
SP+ Projection: Auburn has a 50% chance to win, favored by 0.2 (proj. score: 26-26)
Odds/Betting Line: Arkansas, -2.5 | O/U 48.5 (BetSaracen)
Hear more about why Dapprich thinks Auburn can have a field day on Arkansas’ OL starting at 24:32 here:
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