Auburn’s offense slashed and gashed opponents with its ground game last season, leaning on the legs of quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason.
The ground game remains the strength of Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle system once again. But Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith said the Razorbacks will have to be prepared to defend the Tigers on the perimeter, too, because of talented receivers like Sammie Coates and D’haquille Williams.
“I think that is the one thing that’s overlooked on this football team,” Smith said. “They have got big, athletic guys on the perimeter that force you to defend everything. You can’t just totally commit to the run because that ball goes sailing over your head and they’ve got a guy that can go up there and get it in a heartbeat. We have to be sure to defend all areas of the field and have great discipline.”
Arkansas got a good look at Coates last season. Marshall only threw eight passes in a 35-17 win, but one of them was an 88-yard touchdown to the 6-foot-2, 201-pound receiver. Coates led Auburn with 42 catches for 902 yards and seven touchdowns.
“He’s a pretty good athlete,” Arkansas cornerback Carroll Washington said. “He’s got speed. He’s big and strong and you can’t take plays off against that guy.”
Williams is a junior college transfer who enrolled at Auburn last January. The 6-foot-2, 216-pound receiver was a 2012 NJCAA All-American at Mississippi Gulf Coast and earned honorable mention all-American honors last season.
“He’s a hell of a player,” defensive backs coach Clay Jennings said. “One thing we’ve got to do is we have to be physical. We have to keep our eyes in the right spot. He’s out there on the perimeter, we can’t get caught playing with our eyes in the backfield. We’ve got to read our keys and do the best to keep the ball in front of them. Whether it be Duke or Coates or any of those guys. They’ve got a tremendous receiving corps over there and we’ve got to do a great job of containing their guys.”
No Mitchel or Hines
Bielema said Arkansas will be without two experienced cornerbacks at Auburn.
Tevin Mitchel will not be available because of a hamstring injury that has limited him throughout preseason camp. Mitchel, who started 10 games last season, will be out a “minimum of two or three weeks,” according to Bielema.
Hines, who has started 15 games the past two seasons, may not play this season. He wasn’t on the team’s depth chart for the Auburn game and isn’t traveling Saturday.
“I suggested he take a redshirt year to get everything in order, get more in line with what we are asking people to do,” Bielema said. “I think he has got a priority of getting a degree and playing at a high a level as possible. He is not ready to do that right now. He wasn’t in our 2-deep. I explained the options to him. … I told him he still had a redshirt year and it would probably be in his best interests to explore it.”
Washington and Jared Collins are Arkansas’ starting cornerbacks for the season opener. D.J. Dean and freshman Henre’ Toliver also will play Saturday.
Bielema was asked if he had any concerns about the absences and said “not at all.”
“I think everybody’s losing sight that Carroll Washington, Jared Collins have played a lot of football,” Bielema said about the two, who combined for 6 starts in 2013. “They’re our two best corners, hands down, right now and have been all camp.”
Segrest vs. Lashlee
Arkansas defensive line coach Rory Segrest and Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee worked together on Samford’s staff in 2011. The one season was enough for the two coaches to develop a “great relationship,” according to Lashlee.
“I was only at Samford for one year … and that was the only year we were there together,” Lashlee said. “I’ve got great respect for him, and he did a heck of a job with our special teams and D-line that year. I’m looking forward to seeing him.”
Lashlee joined Malzahn’s staff at Arkansas State in 2012, then followed him to Auburn for the 2013 season. Segrest remained at Samford in 2012 and 2013 before leaving for the position on Arkansas coach Bret Bielema’s staff last winter.
Segrest called Lashlee after getting the Arkansas job to get his advice on area schools for his son. They also swap text messages, although there haven’t been any this week as the Razorbacks and Tigers prepare for the season opener.
It will be the first time the coaches have faced each other since working together.
“Once you get out there on game day and you start taking snaps, you’re just out there to win the rep,” Segrest said. “You’re not worried about who it is across the sideline from you. You just want your guys to execute and do the best job they can.”
• Bielema expects 12 true freshmen to play at Auburn. The group includes Toliver, linebackers Randy Ramsey, Khalia Hackett and Dwayne Eugene, offensive linemen Frank Ragnow and Brian Wallace, wide receiver Kendrick Edwards, defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson and Dollarway safety Josh Liddell. “What you get excited about is the group overall, those 12 true freshmen, if there’s one dynamic they all have is they’re very, very athletic. They’re very talented and they love the game.”
• Another freshman, wide receiver Jojo Robinson, is questionable for the opener after hurting his ribs in practice this week. Bielema said Robinson is scheduled to travel and the Razorbacks are hoping he’ll be available to play Saturday. “Our intention is to play him,” Bielema said. “It just depends on how fast he comes along.”
• Auburn will remember Philip Lutzenkirchen and defensive back David Langner with a moment of silence before Saturday’s game. Lutzenkirchen, who was a member of the 2010 national title team, died in a single-car accident in July. Langner, who recovered two blocked punts in the “Punt, Bama, Punt” game in 1972 and played for the Tigers from 1971-73, died after battling cancer in April.