Auburn, the defending national champion, suffered its lone loss against Clemson, a team that still hasn't tasted defeat. Since then, the Tigers have posted back-to-back wins, including a thrilling 16-13 triumph over South Carolina on the road last week. That bout marked the beginning of a four-game stretch against ranked SEC opponents.
"Everybody knows we have a great challenge this week, another tough road game against a very good football team, as we all know," said Auburn's Chizik. "It's going to be a great challenge for us. We're going back on the road, and I feel like our team is getting a little bit better of an idea of playing on the road and the challenges of that come with these tough SEC road games."
As for Arkansas, it bounced back strong from a lopsided loss to Alabama with a thrilling 42-38 victory over Texas A&M at Dallas Cowboys Stadium last weekend. All three of the team's other wins came against rather lackluster opponents, so it was certainly good for Petrino's group to put one in the win column against a quality foe.
"I think it's important to stay hungry," said Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee in anticipation of this weekend's tilt. "We always need to have a chip on our shoulder. There's no doubt that for us to accomplish our goals, we have to win SEC games. We believe in winning games at home in front of our home crowd, so this week is a huge game for us."
Auburn holds an 11-8-1 series advantage over Arkansas, but the Razorbacks have won three of the last four matchups.
Last season, Auburn was unstoppable on offense with Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton under center. Sure, this year's group is far less formidable, gaining a mere 370.6 total ypg, but the Tigers are still scoring 30.6 ppg. The team has yet to lose a fumble this season, a major reason for the strong start. Starting quarterback Barrett Trotter has thrown for 895 yards and nine touchdowns, but he has tossed five interceptions and needed to make better decisions at times. The club's top receiver is Emory Blake, an explosive target who has posted 333 yards and four touchdowns on 19 catches.
There is clearly room for Auburn to improve on the defensive side of the ball, as the club is permitting 27.4 ppg and 439.8 total ypg to foes. The Tigers are yielding 207.0 ypg against the run, surprising considering last season's success. Opposing quarterbacks have also found success throwing against the Tigers, who are allowing foes to make good on 54 percent of their third-down conversion attempts.
Points were hard to come by for Auburn last week against South Carolina, but Trotter made a big play when his team needed it the most. With just 1:38 remaining in the tilt, the quarterback hit Philip Lutzenkirchen with a nine- yard touchdown to give the Tigers the lead and the win. Give plenty of credit to the Auburn ground attack for the triumph, as the club rushed for 246 yards despite a pedestrian 3.7 yards per carry average. Michael Dyer pounded away at the USC defensive front, gaining 141 yards and a touchdown on 41 attempts.
There is plenty of talent on the offensive side of the ball for South Carolina, so the fact that Auburn allowed just 13 points and 289 total yards last week is remarkable. The Tigers came up with two big interceptions and two fumble recoveries, and those impact plays changed the game.
"If we're getting penetration, and we're controlling the line of scrimmage like we did last week, which we did, then it makes everybody's job from the back easier," said Chizik. "Linebackers, safeties, everybody. We're going to continue to improve up there, but I felt like we saw some strides on the defensive line last week."
Arkansas wideout Joe Adams is listed as questionable for this game because of injury, and he will be sorely missed if he can't play. Still, quarterback Tyler Wilson has other reliable options, including Jarius Wright (28 catches, 478 yards, five TDs). Ronnie Wingo Jr. paces the backfield with 284 rushing yards, while Wilson has completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 1,517 yards and 10 touchdowns against only three interceptions.
While Arkansas is racking up 39.4 ppg and 471.8 total ypg, the Razorbacks are allowing 22.8 pg and 388.4 total ypg. Petrino's squad has compiled 23 offensive touchdowns, but it has only permitted foes to notch 12 offensive scores. One glaring area of weakness is pressuring the quarterback, as Arkansas has only five sacks to its credit thus far.
At halftime of last weekend's game against Texas A&M, Arkansas trailed 35-17 and appeared to be on its way to defeat. To the credit of the Hogs, they surrendered just three points the entire second half while putting 25 points on the board. Wilson threw for a staggering 510 yards, a new school record, with three touchdowns and not a single interception, and Wright dominated the game to the tune of 13 catches, a school-record 281 yards and two scores.