Pity the DVR during last year’s Auburn-Arkansas showdown.
Even the act of blinking often denied fans trying to keep up with the Tigers’ 65-43 win from catching pivotal plays in real time.
And those who dared dip a chip into that nearby dish of salsa were immediately sent scrambling for the remote control.
No. 10 Arkansas’ (4-1) rematch against No. 15 Auburn (4-1) this Saturday still promises to be a scorcher, even if it is turned down a few jalapenos. Turbo-charging last year’s pace was Auburn’s simple title-winning formula: Give the ball to Cam Newton, block, celebrate.
With Cam now running roughshod in the NFL, Newton’s law no longer applies in college football. But coming back down to earth hasn’t been such a bad thing for the Tigers’ offense, which these days is riding the coattails of the 5-foot-9, 210-pound Michael Dyer and might have found its groove in last week’s 16-13 win over then-No.10 South Carolina.
Dyer ran 41 times as Auburn piled up 92 plays from scrimmage compared to South Carolina’s 52 plays. The sophomore tailback finished with 141 yards and a touchdown, further burnishing the 2011 BCS National Championship Game MVP’s reputation as a gamer. Against Mississippi State and Clemson this season, he averaged 17 carries, 151 yards and two touchdowns.
On Saturday evening, expect a steady diet of Dyer and fellow tailback Onterio McCalebb to test a Hog defense that’s allowed nearly 600 rushing yards in its last two games. Dyer, a Little Rock native, won’t be the only Arkansan trying to put on a show in front of friends and family at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Kiehl Frazier, a dual threat quarterback who played last year at Springdale’s Shiloh Christian high school, has played a progressively larger role in each of the Tigers’ first five games. Against South Carolina, he rushed for 48 yards on nine attempts, including three third-down and short conversions. He could see more snaps out of the Wildcat formation against Arkansas, which last season was hurt by other running quarterbacks besides Newton. Mississippi State’s Chris Relf ran for 103 yards on 31 carries against Arkansas; Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor ran for 115 yards on 15 carries.
On the other side of the ball, Arkansas’ high-powered pass offense will exploit the Tigers’ defense, which ranks last in the SEC. A couple weeks ago, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd threw for 386 yards and four touchdowns to help beat Auburn 38-24. Look for similar numbers from Hogs quarterback Tyler Wilson this week.
Sure, the Tigers will test the Hogs’ young offensive line by bringing the heat early with various blitzes, as Texas A&M did Saturday while sacking Wilson four times. But Arkansas simplified its protection schemes in the second half, which bought Wilson enough time to throw for 510 yards en route to a 42-38 win. Those kind of adjustments will be made more quickly on Saturday.
It was around this time last year that Knile Davis separated himself from the pack as Arkansas’ lead running back. With Davis injured and likely out for the season, nobody has yet stepped up as the alpha back, but coaches must be pleased by two positive signs from the running back commitee: human battering ram Broderick Green returned early from ACL injury and Dennis Johnson ran aggressively in the second half against the Aggies.
Wilson’s pin-point passing, the continued improvement from the running backs, Arkansas’ heralded receivers (If Jarius Wright continues to play anywhere near the level he did against Texas A&M, he’ll more than make up for Greg Childs’ lack of big plays) and Bobby Petrino’s playcalling will simply overwhelm Auburn’s defense.
My prediction: Arkansas wins 40-31.
PREDICT THE SCORE, WIN A PRIZE
If you can correctly predict the score of Saturday’s 6 p.m. game between Arkansas and Auburn you could win a prize pack of tickets to The Rave movie theater (in Little Rock) and a few Sync T-shirts. Visit hub.syncweekly.com.