LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas or Auburn; Auburn or Arkansas, the reporter responsible for a sidebar from today’s game has got it made.
Either way, he can write with pathos about the quarterback from Northwest Arkansas who went through a disastrous September and then righted the ship on the first Saturday in October. And, he can flesh it out by documenting the continuing downward spiral of the loser.
Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson probably has a tougher road to hoe than Auburn’s Kiehl Frazier because the Auburn defense is better than the Razorbacks’ unit. On the other hand, the Auburn offense is less talented than any Arkansas has faced since Jacksonville State in the opener.
Idle last week, Auburn coach Gene Chizik and his staff had extra time to scrutinize the Arkansas defense. Given that and the Razorbacks’ shortcomings, I would narrow the scope of the offense, reduce the number of decisions that Frazier has to make, and figure out multiple ways to get the ball to Onterio McCalebb. Shut down by both Mississippi State and LSU, McCalebb is Auburn’s best playmaker, and Arkansas does not tackle with the certainty of the Bulldogs or the Tigers.
Frazier is the wild card. Four straight quarterbacks have looked like world beaters against Arkansas, combining for 107-of-156 for 1,451 yards and 12 touchdowns with one interception. But, Louisiana-Monroe’s Kolton Browning, Rutgers’ Gary Nova, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel are not one-game wonders. McCarron is No. 7 in the NCAA’s pass efficiency rating this week and Manziel is No. 11. Nova is No. 39 and Browning is No. 53.
Frazier, USA Today’s 2010 Offensive High School Player of the Year while at Shiloh Christian in Springdale, completed less than 53 percent of his passes during the first four games. At that point, his passer rating was 119th of 123 eligible players, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
For the year, McCarron, Manziel, Nova and Browning have thrown a total of four interceptions and their teams are a combined 14-3, including ULM’s overtime loss to Auburn and a five-point loss to Baylor. Frazier has suffered seven picks in 89 attempts and his Tigers are 1-3.
After reviewing tape of Auburn’s four games, Frazier said he must go all the way through his reads instead of making a quick decision to run. Chizik says his quarterback must set his feet, make a decision, and throw the ball. Although Wilson is No. 37 in pass efficiency, he, too has made some poor decisions. Both of his interceptions against A&M were easy for Steven Terrell.
Auburn offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler moved to the sideline for the Tigers’ fourth game and said he would remain there even though he prefers the isolation of the pressbox.
“ … I’ve got a young quarterback out there that, I think, face-to-face contact is critical right now,” he said.
Arkansas’ offensive coordinator Paul Petrino is already on the sideline to counsel Wilson.
If Arkansas’ secondary was stable, the ideal plan would be to shut down Auburn’s running game, pressure Frazier, and force him to make decisions. But, this week’s patch-work version is likely to include safety Eric Bennett, who missed last week with a leg injury, and first-year players Will Hines and Davyon McKinney at the corners. A redshirt, McKinney was a wide receiver in high school.
If the Razorbacks go after Frazier and don’t get there, Auburn will be sitting pretty for a big play. Auburn as a 10-point favorite is a surprise, particularly since the Tigers’ second-leading receiver and primary punt returner, Quan Bray, is suspended for the game.
Considering Arkansas’ reliance on the pass and Frazier’s penchant for mistakes, a defensive play of some sort is likely to decide the outcome. Auburn’s defense is more apt to make such a play. AUBURN 30, ARKANSAS 28.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is email@example.com.