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AUBURN — Auburn (3-4, 1-3 SEC) has dominated the matchup with Arkansas (4-3, 1-3 SEC) in recent years, as winners of six straight and nine of the last 12. But as the Razorbacks come to Jordan-Hare Stadium once again, the teams are heading in different directions, and the pressure is on for Auburn to get back to winning to make a bowl game for the ninth straight season.
“We are closer than we are further away,” said Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin on Wednesday. This has been a pretty consistent message from Harsin throughout the season, even during the three-game losing streak. He said something similar following the Ole Miss loss as they were heading into the bye week.
Harsin and his staff have had the bye week to prepare the Razorbacks and two weeks to prove that the team is close to turning a corner, and they will need to do that
The Tigers have once again had one of the toughest schedules in the nation, and it does not get any easier from here on out. After Arkansas, Auburn travels to Starkville to take on a tough Mississippi State team coming off of a bye, then back home for Texas A&M and Western Kentucky before going to Tuscaloosa for the Iron Bowl.
“There's a lot of potential and guys that sit in this room, they see that too, we watch the tape, they see it,” Harsin said. “You have to be getting better. There's no peaking, right. I mean, you're playing until the very last game, bowl game, championship game, whatever it is.”
Outside of Western Kentucky, Arkansas might be Auburn’s easiest remaining game on its schedule. The Razorbacks do have a top-notch offense, averaging 248.6 passing yards per game, which is No. 61 in the country, along with an even 240 rushing yards per game, good for No. 9 in the nation.
This attack, led by K.J. Jefferson, only averages 1.3 turnovers a game, which is No. 84 in the country and could be a problem for a Tigers’ defense that has only managed 0.7 turnovers per game, fifth worst in FBS.
The issue for the Razorbacks is on the defensive side of the ball, and this could be an opportunity for the Auburn offense to find some rhythm. The Razorback defense is one of the worst in the country, giving up 457.7 yards per game, 12th-worst in the nation, including a pass defense that is 128th in the country. The Razorbacks are also just 64th in rushing defense.
Every opponent has repeatedly gashed this defense and it has given up 35 or more points in the last three games. This could be not only a crucial game for Harsin and his staff, but also a chance for the Auburn offense, which is 108th in scoring, 56th in rushing, 101st in passing, and 120th in turnovers per game, to find some success.
A win against Arkansas could prove that the Tigers would have a chance against the final four opponents on their schedule, while a loss could crush whatever optimism remains.
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