For the first four weeks of the season, Arkansas was college football’s darling. Since losing to Georgia 37-0 and falling to Ole Miss 52-51 on the road, the Razorbacks have been brought back to earth heading into Saturday’s early kickoff against Auburn. The Tigers come to Fayetteville with something to prove after being dropped from the AP Top 25 despite Auburn’s two losses being against top-7 teams. This week’s Auburn Football Scouting Report shows a clear pathway to Auburn extending its current win streak over Arkansas to six years in a row.
The Arkansas offense is a run-first, spread offense with an emphasis on outside zone run plays. If Auburn fans are curious about what the Arkansas offense looks like, it holds a lot of similarities with previous Auburn football teams under Gus Malzahn.
In 2021, Arkansas’ run-pass split sees the Razorbacks run the football on 67 percent of their plays. Arkansas wants to establish the ground game and complement it with play-action shot plays. The Razorback rushing attack favors zone runs over power, primarily getting the ball to the right edge behind guard Beaux Limmer, tackle Dalton Wagner, and tight end Blake Kern. It’s a balanced approach between who is getting the carries for Arkansas with Trelon Smith (73 carries), Raheim Sanders (54) and KJ Jefferson (60).
The passing game is what I call a short-to-shot approach. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), 58.4% of Jefferson’s passes have been thrown within 10 yards or behind the line of scrimmage and 16 percent of his passes have been thrown 20 yards or beyond downfield. The offense makes reads simple for Jefferson with a lot of RPOs, but the other major factor in the offense are the shot plays. According to PFF, 46 percent of Jefferson’s throws have been play-action passes. The essence of the Arkansas offense is to establish the running game to draw more defenders into the box, and at that point, chunk the ball deep for momentum plays. Jefferson is 11-for-20 for 456 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on throws 20 or more yards down the field, according to PFF.
The Arkansas defense primarily puts up a three-man front, content to drop back seven or eight players into coverage on passing plays on most plays. It is mainly a Cover 3 defense, designed to clog up the passing lanes. It works. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 55 percent of their passes for 156 yards per game and 6.1 yards per attempt against the Arkansas secondary. The Razorbacks have allowed just three passing TDs to four interceptions. So, where are all the points being allowed on this Arkansas defense that is giving up 24.5 points per game?
Run stopping is not this team’s strength. Arkansas is giving up 181.5 rush yards per game on 4.5 yards per carry. Texas A&M posted 197 rush yards, Georgia finished with 273 and Ole Miss with 324. The defense hasn’t been committed to stacking the box with defenders, but instead, they have stuck to three-man fronts and opting to go with extra defensive backs rather than linebackers. That personnel decision has cost Arkansas in the run game. The question is if Arkansas will make the adjustment that we have seen multiple teams make against Auburn this season and stack the box.
Auburn doesn’t have to change anything about themselves or what they want to do schematically in order to win this game. This game will be played in the trenches. Auburn’s two biggest strengths this season has been running the football and stopping the run. Those two strengths pinpoint an Arkansas weakness (stopping the run) and force the Arkansas offense to be more than what it has been all season: one-dimensional. I don’t expect Arkansas to be able to overhaul its approach in the matter of a week to make Auburn uncomfortable.