Even though today is Oct. 21 Arkansas is playing host to No. 21 Auburn in Reynolds Razorback Stadium it marks the first SEC game played in Fayetteville this season.
Arkansas is winless in three SEC games to this point. The Texas A&M game on Sept. 23 in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, was a designated home game for the Hogs. They have played road games at South Carolina and Alabama. Bret Bielema and the Hogs are hoping for a loud group of fans.
"We're excited to get back home and get in front of our crowd," Bielema said. "A 6:30 kickoff should get a lot of people in the stands, get everybody excited, hopefully have a few hours to tailgate and get revved up. Auburn is a team that we have had some good games with, here at home especially, the one last time they were here I believe was a four overtime game.
"Last year it went a little sideways. The guys are eager to get back here, get in front of our fans. They run obviously tempo, line-of-scrimmage offense, so anything we can do to create some noise and make it a little bit of havoc in the stadium would be great. Other than that, our guys are excited and getting ready to play."
In 2015 when the two teams played in this stadium, the Razorbacks won 54-46 in four overtimes. However last year the Hogs were smashed by Auburn 56-3 in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Bielema said the Auburn game this season isn't just a regular game.
"I think just the way they ended a year ago, it would be fair to say that from the time they walked off the field last year to where we are they've made themselves aware of it," Bielema said. "There's a lot of you know, not just amongst the players. Amongst the coaches. Obviously some of their coaches, including Gus (Malzahn), had already been here. And his story that involves the state.
"They've tried to recruit a lot of our players, you know. A lot of our guys that are here who are in-state guys, I would say that most of the time the guys that have multiple SEC offers that Auburn was in the mix for those guys. So there's a lot of personal stories that are there too. I think there's a lot in this game that's invested more than just the game itself."
Malzahn feels his team will be ready when they take the field on tonight. He is 3-1 against Bielema. Auburn won 35-17 in Fayetteville in 2013 and then downed the Hogs 45-21 in Jordan-Hare the following year.
"We have a big game at Arkansas," Malzahn said. "The last time we were there I think it went four overtimes. They got us at the very end. We know we're gonna get their best. We have had a good week of practice. Our guys are ready and looking forward to traveling."
Bielema has said that Allen could play this week. Are you preparing for both Allen and Kelley this week in practice?
"Yeah I think you have to," Malzahn said. "Austin is a very tough guy and I'm sure he wants to play in this game. So yes we are preparing for both."
While Arkansas is coming off a 42-9 loss to Alabama, Auburn blew a 20-0 lead at LSU last Saturday and lost 27-23. How has the team bounced back this week?
"Yesterday we may have had our best practice since the season started," Malzahn said. "Our guys practiced very well on a level I liked to see. They are ready to get back on the field."
Auburn's quarterback is Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham. He has completed 108 of 165 passes for 1,510 yards, eight touchdowns and a couple of interceptions. Bielema is very aware of Stidham.
"Obviously a guy in their system, in their way of doing things at Auburn, they've had a couple of different looks, different guys, different types," Bielema said. "He's done an extremely good job. You look at the first half from last week and they're putting up points left and right. Going back the last couple of games before. Definitely a talented player that understands the vision of his coaches and can execute the offense and has a lot of good options around him."
Paul Rhoads is Arkansas' defensive coordinator and talked about Stidham as well and what kind of problems he can present his defense.
"I think… Completely different offense from what he was in to what he’s in now," Rhoads said. "I think because of that, you see a level of confidence and familiarity with what’s being done in a higher level of execution as the season has taken place. He’s a gifted thrower, as well as a person that can execute what’s asked of him in the run game.
"From turning bodies and the release of the jet sweep, there’s some deceptiveness that goes along and he executes all of that very well. He stands up in pressure, he steps up in pressure and does a good job of creating offense with his arm because of that. He’s a tough guy. He’s a competitor and a proven winner in both stops."
Auburn also goes into the Wildcat package with Kerryon Johnson. How much Wildcat do you think they will run tonight?
"You’ve got to have a specific plan in our mind," Rhoads said. "It is not, ‘Okay, he’s just the quarterback now and the other guys are the backs.’ Even their deployment isn’t that way. They’re unbalanced in it for one, they have motion in it for two. You’ve got the extra gap created by the quarterback, him carrying the football, so yeah, it demands attention.
"These last two offenses that we’ve faced, especially in comparison to our other five games on the season, these two opponents do a lot of things in their personnel groups to make you rep and be sound and that’s 10 more minutes here, that’s five more reps here and so forth. They challenge you in your preparation."
One thing that would help Allen or Kelley tonight is the team able to run the football. Arkansas had 27 yards rushing on 29 attempts against Alabama. Dan Enos was asked if getting the running game going is as simple as not playing Alabama?
"Auburn is very good," Enos said. "They are very, very comparable. Not a lot of people have run the ball against them either. Running the ball comes down to moving the guys up front. Getting on people and getting movement. Playing on their line of scrimmage, not your line of scrimmage. When you do that you are able to run the football. When you aren't then it's very difficult to run the football."
You said Auburn is very good on defense. What makes them so good?
"I think they are very similar to Alabama," Enos said. "I think Coach (Kevin) Steele is from that tree. You can see a lot of similarities. They are playing a 3-4 and they get into four-down fronts with different guys. They are a very complicated defense. They have a multiple blitz package they can get into at any time.
"Coverage packages are very similar as well. Their linemen play with great leverage and use their hands. Again I have a ton of respect for Coach Steele and the success he has had and his reputation. But obviously he's got those guys playing very fast and very physical."
How is it playing Auburn after Alabama?
"You guys have been around it longer than me," Enos said with a wide smile. "It's this league. That is what we all signed up for. South Carolina's defensive line was very good. Going into that game I thought they were good coming out of it I thought they were very good. Alabama same thing and Auburn same thing.
"Every week since I have been here where I have had a game in the SEC as a coach I looked at the opponent and said, 'this is a week off we're gonna handle these guys.' Every week is a huge challenge. It's just part of this league. It's a physical league and you've got to come back Saturday and Sunday and take care of your body. You've got to rest and get in the right frame of mind. Come Saturday you've got a very physical football game with a bunch of very physical guys."
Arkansas and Auburn will be televised on the SEC Network. Auburn (5-2, 3-1) is playing to try and stay in the SEC West race while Arkansas (2-4, 0-3) is hoping to close the season like they did in 2015 when they last started 2-4.