With an upcoming match-up against a No. 17 Arkansas team that averages nearly 250 rushing yards per game, the Auburn defense has its work cut out for them on Saturday.
The Razorbacks are coming off of a 350-yard rushing performance last week in their loss to Ole Miss. Even in the loss, they put up 51 points.
“Obviously they're a really good team,” EDGE Derick Hall said. “I think coach Pittman is doing a great job with those guys and getting them ready to play.”
The Razorbacks had a slow start, only scoring 14 points in the first half last week against Ole Miss. That changed in the second half, where Arkansas scored 37 points in the second half and two touchdowns in the last minute and a half of the game. The Razorback offense is explosive, and it starts on the ground.
“We put a great defense together first, so if we’re able to do that for a full four quarters I think we will have no issue going out there and executing our plan,” Hall said.
One of the bigger challenges will be to slow down Arkansas quarterback K.J. Jefferson, who has the second-most rushing yards among SEC quarterbacks with 320. The Sardis, Mississippi native also has SEC quarterback-high five rushing touchdowns to go along with his nine scores through the air. Jefferson had 20 carries for 85 yards and three touchdowns last week against Ole Miss and is the team’s third leading rusher.
“He’s definitely a run threat,” Hall said. “So, that’s going to be useful for us to set edges and move around, and just contain him in the pass lane.
“I don’t think of anything different, we just have to go out there and execute the plan.”
Red zone defense has been a struggle at times for the Tigers, and the Razorbacks are run-happy in that area of the field. Through six games Arkansas has scored 12 rushing touchdowns in the red zone, while the Auburn defense has only given up four red zone rushing scores all season. It will be strength versus strength when the Razorbacks get into the red zone on Saturday.
“When they get down in the red zone we either want them to get a field goal or nothing — or a turnover,” Hall said. “It’s something we’ve always emphasized, just as a defense as a whole, we’ll get it right.”
Saturday begins the second half of the schedule for Auburn, and the defense has shown strengths in some departments and not so much in others. The run defense has been solid, while the pass defense and rushing the passer can be suspect at times. With six games to go, there is still time for the Tigers to solidify their defense and play well together.
“We’re bound to get better everywhere,” Hall said. “Running game, pass game, making tackles in space and just doing everything. And I think some of those things we do really well … I think just being more consistent, putting it together the whole four quarters of the game. That's really going to impact our future here.”