Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Hogs can't fail on Tigers' deep pass
Arkansas junior starting cornerback Jared Collins said. "We just have to keep our eyes in the right place," when speaking about the upcoming Arkansas-Auburn game.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Auburn generally begins and ends by beating its opposition running, but the Tigers break their opponents by passing.
Regardless how often the Tigers run at Arkansas today in their 3 p.m. season opener at Auburn, Ala., the Razorbacks can ill-afford to ignore the threat of the deep play-action pass.
So says Greg Schiano, the former Rutgers and NFL Tampa Bay coach, without ever coaching against Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn.
"If Arkansas can avoid letting that big pass play go over the top and just play disciplined football, it's going to be a real tight game," Schiano, now an analyst on the NFL Network, told the crowd Aug. 20 at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club. "Now if the ball goes flying over the top, that's how they blow the game open."
That's how Malzahn successfully worked it against Arkansas last year, differing somewhat from how he succeeded at some previous addresses.
Malzahn's hurry-up, no-huddle offenses have been described as ranging from pass happy to ground-gobbling. He adroitly adapted styles to fit personnel while a high school head coach at Hughes, Shiloh Christian and Springdale, then coordinated college offenses at Arkansas, Tulsa and Auburn before moving on the head coaching jobs at Arkansas State in 2012 and Auburn in 2013.
Last year's stunning 12-2 SEC champion Tigers led the SEC in rushing, averaging 328 yards per game.
Though floundering to a 3-9 overall record that included an 0-8 mark in the SEC last season, a woulda, coulda, shoulda 35-17 loss to Auburn in Fayetteville marked one of Arkansas' better efforts.
Arkansas had its chances at upsetting Auburn. The Razorbacks ran for almost as many yards as Auburn, 222 to 233, but didn't sufficiently capitalize on opportunities. They trailed 14-3 at halftime despite 21 minutes of ball control.
Even trailing 21-3 in the third quarter, the Hogs had a chance with Auburn backed up. Then Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall and receiver Sammie Coates caught run-conscious Arkansas unconscious to the deep pass an d connected for an 88-yard touchdown.
"We saw they were one-on-one with no help over the top, so we gave him [Coates] a chance" Malzahn said after the game.
Safeties -- free safety Alan Turner returns as Arkansas' leading tackler -- are vital for run-support. Even cornerbacks can be vital in run support against Auburn.
But nothing is so primary to the secondary than defending the deep pass.
"I think their goal is to just make you go to sleep on the outside by all the run plays they do," Arkansas junior starting cornerback Jared Collins said. "We just have to keep our eyes in the right place."
New Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith, who was on Schiano's staffs at Rutgers and Tampa Bay, has seen enough Auburn film to heed his old boss' advice.
"You can't just totally commit to the run," Smith said, "because that ball goes sailing over your head, they have got a guy that can go up there and get it in a heartbeat."
Sports on 08/30/2014