Fayetteville, AR (SportsNetwork.com) - The Arkansas Razorbacks have an opportunity to put the brakes on a five-game losing streak on Saturday evening when they welcome the eighth-ranked Auburn Tigers to Fayetteville for an SEC showdown.
Auburn has been one of the biggest surprises in the nation this year. After beginning the season unranked, it has climbed all the way to No. 8 following a 7-1 start, which includes a 3-1 mark in the SEC. The Tigers stepped out of conference last Saturday and made easy work of Florida Atlantic, 45-10, for their fourth straight victory.
"Very happy to get win number seven," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. "I really felt like our guys were ready to play. There was a lot of questions about how we would respond after a big win. I'd say our guys answered that by jumping on them early and taking care of business."
Arkansas, on the other hand, is trending in the opposite direction, having spoiled an impressive 3-0 start with its current slide. The Razorbacks have been outscored 134-17 over the last three games, with an Oct. 19 loss to No. 1 Alabama (52-0) being their worst yet. This will mark the fifth consecutive contest against a ranked opponent for the Hogs, the longest stretch of any SEC club since 1992.
"(It's) obviously a big game for us," Arkansas head coach Brett Bielema said of taking on Auburn. "There's a lot that goes into it. They're a team that's ranked, a team that's done some good things. Obviously an opportunity to be here at home on what should be close to a sell-out crowd, an evening game that everyone should be jacked up for. It will be a tremendous environment."
The tight series is currently tipping in Auburn's favor, 11-10-1, although Arkansas won in both 2011 and 2012.
Auburn's offense has been firing on all cylinders this season (37.0 ppg, 511.0 ypg) thanks to its relentless rushing attack, which ranks fifth in the nation in picking up 315.4 ypg.
There's plenty of touches to go around in the backfield. Tre Mason leads the way with 753 yards and nine touchdowns on 129 carries, and he has scored in five straight games. Cameron Artis-Payne (510 yards, five TDs) and Corey Grant (451 yards, four TDs) have also been explosive, with the latter averaging a whopping 10 yards per carry.
Starting quarterback Nick Marshall is a threat with both his arm (1,148 yards, six TDs) and his legs (461 yards, five TDs), and although he had to leave the FAU game with a shoulder injury, the coaching staff is optimistic that he'll return with no ill effects.
"He's sore, but he's a tough kid," Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. "Everything, from me knowing him and what we know so far, tells me he should be okay."
Luckily the Tigers have a contingency plan, as freshman Jeremy Johnson has looked outstanding in his limited work this season, completing 27-of-39 passes for 393 yards, six touchdowns and two picks.
Sammie Coates (536 yards, four TDs) is one of the best big-play receivers in the country, as his 25.5 yards per reception are tops in the FBS.
In addition to an efficient offense, Auburn also boasts a solid defense. Although its 405.5 ypg allowed ranks it 10th in the SEC, all that yardage has not resulted in many points, as it ranks third at only 20.5 ppg.
Robenson Therezie and Chris Davis are tied for the team lead with 35 tackles apiece, while Therezie has also picked off three passes. Dee Ford is one of the SEC's best pass-rushers, logging 6.0 sacks despite missing two games.
The Razorbacks' offensive woes of late has caused them to take a tumble in the SEC rankings, as they are now the league's lowest-scoring team at just 20.4 ppg.
Brandon Allen has been inefficient under center, completing fewer than 45 percent of his passes for 955 yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. AJ Darby has also seen action, but he hasn't performed much better (18-of-34, 173 yards, TD).
The unit's strength is clearly in the backfield, with a couple of young running backs having solid campaigns. Alex Collins, a freshman, is third in the SEC in rushing with 797 yards while scoring four touchdowns, and sophomore Jonathan Williams is hot on his heels with 612 yards and four scores.
Javontee Herndon has been the most productive receiver with 20 catches for 330 yards and four touchdowns. Hunter Henry (17 receptions, 318 yards, TD) has also connected on a few big plays.
Considering how poor the offense has performed, Arkansas' defense has actually played decently by ranking seventh in the league in yards allowed (388.3), but the unit still allows too many points (30.6 ppg).
Chris Smith and Trey Flowers are two of the best defensive linemen in the SEC, combining for 16.5 TFL, 10.0 sacks and two forced fumbles. Alan Turner's 54 tackles are a team high.