FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — On paper, it looks like a huge mismatch as Auburn comes to Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Of course the last game played in the stadium also looked like one on paper. Yet, San Jose State left Fayetteville with a 31-24 win over the Hogs. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn knows better than to overlook Arkansas or any team particularly in the SEC.
“The road in the SEC is never easy,” Malzahn said. “We know we are going to get their best.”
Auburn (5-1, 2-1) is ranked No. 11 in the nation. Arkansas (2-4, 0-3) and its coach, Chad Morris, are anxious to try to get back on winning track inside Razorback Stadium following the disappointment of the San Jose State game.
“There’s no question about that,” Morris said. “Just the ability, as I’ve said before, we’re putting ourselves in positions to win games. It’s coming. These guys are continuing to put forth the work and the effort. That’s all I can ask right now.”
Arkansas’ offense will be put to the test this week against a very good Auburn defense. Morris talked about what the offense will need to do to be successful against the Tigers.
“We’ve got to pick up first downs,” Morris said. “That’s the big thing. We’ve got to eliminate three-and-outs. We’ve got to keep our defense off the field as much as possible. They’re extremely talented. They’ve got speed to burn. They’ve got depth. There’s not too many deficiencies when you watch their defense. We’ve got to do a good job mixing up the run and the pass. Be consistent and just execute our run game.”
Morris has yet to name a starter at quarterback between Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel. Hicks started the first two games and then Starkel the last four.
“Haven’t named a starter and probably not going to until the end,” Morris said. “I don’t know that. They both had a really good day yesterday. Good competition. My challenge to them is consistency. That’s what we’ve got to have. I think Ben has done a good job coming in as a reliever and I’ve shared that with him. Nick came in as a reliever and did a good job too.
“I’m not having a problem if I put one on the field and have to bring somebody off the bench to be a reliever so to speak and get us going. They both have done that. We’ll see how the day goes and go from there. I’ve been very impressed with how they’re both competing and just trying to be consistent with our entire team right now.”
Jordan Rodgers during the game Saturday night pointed out some mechanical issues with Starkel. Is that something you’ve experienced before with Starkel?
“It’s definitely something that we work on consistently,” Morris said. “He was. Going back and looking at it again, his hips were open a little bit too wide and his plant foot. Those are just some small details that we drill every day. As I shared with him before, there’s just some days that you just may not be on and that’s just life. How you respond to that is really the only thing that matters.
“As I asked him on the sidelines the other night when he came off the field in the second half, ‘Are you okay?’ He said, ‘Coach, I don’t know. I just don’t know why I’m not hitting the passes.’ He wasn’t frustrated, it was just one of those, ‘Golly, I’m not on tonight.’ But you know, he comes back to work, and he gets after it. You admire someone like that. He’s not the first quarterback I’ve had that’s not had an on the night, and he won’t be the last.”
Malzahn won’t be surprised to see both Hicks and Starkel play against the Tigers on Saturday.
“I think you are right,” Malzahn said. “I think they’ve got two guys that can get the job done. They’ve got the luxury of if a guy isn’t doing great they can bring the other guy in. The backups really went in and really gave them a spark. Our approach is we’re really expecting to see both of them and that’s happened a few times this year.”
Malzahn also fully expects Morris to have eventual success at Arkansas.
“He’s an excellent football coach,” Malzahn said. “I think the glaring thing that stands out to me is his guys are playing extremely hard. That’s a tribute to him and his staff. There’s some other teams around the country that lose a game or two and don’t play hard. He’ll hang in there and get the thing turned around there’s no doubt about that. You see him getting closer. They could have won the last two games. Had opportunities and it’s just a matter of time before they get over that hump.”
Junior running back Rakeem Boyd wore a green jersey on Wednesday. But safety Joe Foucha and offensive tackle Colton Jackson were in regular jerseys.
“All three will play,” Morris said. “They were out at practice yesterday. Colton was in a regular jersey. They other two were in green jerseys. I anticipate those transitioning over to regular colored jerseys this week. They’ll both be ready to go Saturday.”
Earlier in the week, freshman cornerback Devin Bush left the team. Morris spoke about that on Wednesday.
“Yeah he did,” Morris said. “He did. He and I spoke in depth. We’re going to wish him the best of luck. He’s a great young man and we’ll wish him the best of luck.”
Senior tight end Chase Harrell will be the offensive captain this week.
Arkansas and Auburn kickoff at 11 a.m. in Reynolds Razorback Stadium Saturday. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.