While there is plenty of speculation about the future of head coach Bryan Harsin and Auburn has lost three straight games, Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman expects the Tigers’ best effort on Saturday.
That’s when Arkansas (4-3, 1-3) and Auburn (3-4, 1-3) will meet in an 11 a.m. game that will be televised by the SEC Network.
Both teams are coming in off bye weeks after the Razorbacks won a 52-35 contest at BYU and Ole Miss downed the Tigers 48-34.
“I think they’re playing really hard,” Pittman said. “It’s Auburn, we haven’t beat them since I’ve been here. We’re 0-2 against them. I think they’re playing hard.
“For them to come back after being down 21-0 the last game against Ole Miss, and come back and make that a close, good football game on the road – I think it says a lot about their coaching staff, and the kids still believing in them and playing extremely hard.”
Auburn, Arkansas and Texas A&M are all 1-3 and looking to escape the SEC Western Division basement while Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU reside at top.
The Razorbacks won five of their last six games last season – a spree capped by an Outback Bowl win over Penn State – are looking for a similar successful spree to end the 2022 campaign and looking to do some familiar things.
“…I think any time you have some of the same players on your team that did it fairly well last year — we didn’t win them all, I think we won four out of the last five — but I think that always helps and helps the belief of coach isn’t just up there blowing smoke,” Pittman said. “We’ve done it before and have the opportunity to do it again. We need to, honestly.”
Auburn started out the season 2-0, but has since lost to visiting Penn State (41-12), beat Missouri 17-14 and then fallen to visiting LSU (21-17) and lost at Georgia (42-10) and at Ole Miss.
Harsin,a former head coach at Arkansas State (7-5 in 2013) and Boise State (2014-2020) is 9-11 in his two seasons at Auburn, where he went 6-7 in 2021.
The Tigers are led offensively by junior tailback Tank Bigsby (6-0, 213), who has rushed for 2,457 yards and 21 touchdowns in his career, and redshirt freshman quarterback Robby Ashford (6-3, 212), a transfer from Oregon.
Bigsby has 524 yards on the ground and six touchdowns this season while Ashford has thrown for 1,014 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 310 yards and three additional scores.
”Well, Robby’s their second-leading rusher,” Pittman said. “So some of those are designed runs, which he’s very good at. Obviously, the other part is getting outside the pocket and running, which we’re very concerned about that. But he’s got a strong arm, but he’s most dangerous when you have the receivers covered downfield and he takes off. I mean, he’s really dangerous doing that.”
Bigsby, who also has 15 catches for 97 yards this season, had 20 carries for 179 yards and 2 touchdowns in the loss at Ole Miss.
“Bigbsy, probably last week he showed who he really is,” Pittman said. “They opened up against Ole Miss a lot of holes for him, and he made a lot of good runs out of that. But I’ve always liked Bigsby. I think he’s a really, really good player.
“(He) breaks a lot of tackles, and that’s the emphasis this week, trying to get him down before he gets started. They can get him 3-4 yards, he’s hard to bring down. We need to get him as close to the line of scrimmage as possible.”
Auburn’s defense is led by senior defensive end Derick Hall (6-3, 256), senior linebacker Owen Pappoe (6-1, 225) and freshman safety Colby Wooden (6-1, 188).
Hall has 40 tackles with four sacks among his seven stops for last yardage and has also added five quarterback hurries, an interception and a forced fumble.
“Hall’s really good,” Pittman said. “Well, so is Pappoe. But Hall’s really good. He’s a problem. I think he has maybe four sacks, but it’s not just the sacks. It’s that he’s a good run defender, he can chase you down on quarterback reads. He can give you the read and chase you down. He can affect throws, affect where KJ will be able to set up in the pocket. I think he’s really, really good and is playing extremely well.”
Pappoe has racked up 57 tackles this season with 30 solo stops, two forced fumbles and a pass breakup.
“Pappoe’s a guy that just gets you on the ground,” Pittman said. “He can run. Played a lot of ball for them. But he can run and very, very smart player. Seems to be in position all the time.”
Wooden has proven valuable in both pass and run coverage with 29 tackles, 3 sacks among his 6 1/2 tackles for lost yardage, four quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
“I like Wooden, too,” Pittman added. “I think he’s a really good player. He’s a really good pass rusher. I like them all, but those guys really stick out. I like their linebacker corps. They seem to be good tacklers. Obviously you turn on tape and it’s the first guy making the tackle and a lot of times that’s the case with Auburn. I like them. I like their defense.”