Wednesday, October 7, 2009
This game scares me more than any thus far. I don't believe for a second Arkansas is a superior team. The problems are...
1. Arkansas' strength (quarterback play) is matched to Auburn's weakness (depth in secondary, and pass rushers).
2. First morning game. Totally different atmosphere and feeling running out to play a football game in the AM vs PM. Even worse on the road. The entire itinerary is turned on its head. Wake up call will come around 5:30. Meetings are abbreviated, and even the pregame meal is altered. Then, in the second half of the game, you're hungry because you haven't eaten since 7:00 am (and no one feels like eating much of anything a few hours before you lay your guts on the line in an SEC battle). But you force-feed yourself because if you don't eat you won't have the energy to make it through the game. I bet we haven't practiced in the AM since preseason camp. This will be our largest obstacle this week, even greater than who we're playing.
3. A week of pats on the back and national recognition. This is probably the least of all my concerns, but a concern none-the-less, because of how many young guys play pivotal roles on this team.
4. Arkansas. Not the "name" that gets the competitive juices flowing for most of our roster, however, a team capable of blowing your doors off if you come in unprepared with the wrong state of mind. Arkansas needs this game badly...there first 4 SEC opponents--Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, Florida....brutal. I'm sure they were hoping to split these first four. Lose to Auburn and it's an uphill battle to Shreveport.
I expect Arkansas to come in confident and eager to prove the Bama game was an offensive anomaly. Petrino will take this challenge to heart, having coached with Chizik at AU and not wanting to be outshined by another offensive genius across the field in Malzahn.
Malzahn is an interesting story line as well. My gut feeling tells me if he has the opportunity to put up 100 on Arkansas he'd relish the opportunity. Arkansas/Houson Nutt Tony Franklin'd him a few years back and I'm sure Malzahn is salivating at the opportunity to score and score often Saturday.
I expect Malzahn to call a "conservative" (relatively speaking) game in an attempt to control the football and chew up clock. Our best defense will truly be our offense and our abilty to allow our defense to rest while sustaining drives with first downs.
Defensively, Alabama has layed out the blueprint to slowing down Arkansas' prolific passing attack---pressure Mallett and force him from the pocket. Alabama blitzed Arkansas from all angles, and Mallett looked like his cleats were stuck in tar. Make him uncomfortable in the pocket, force him to move around and disrupt their timing, and your own your way to success.
Offensively, the unsung hero has been Eric Smith. He's the bowling ball lead back clearing the way for enormous holes off tackle. He's made critical catches to prolong drives as well and he'll be key in this game. If I'm a defensive coach, I'm telling my players to follow #32 and he'll lead you to the ball.
I can easily see us trailing early in this game from either giving up a big play or not being mentally ready for the early start in Fayetteville. I don't believe Arkansas is as well rounded as Auburn is and can play keep away with the football when needed. It's a tough one though!