Auburn – Arkansas Preview
Auburn – Arkansas Preview
Auburn and Arkansas face off in Fayetteville in what has become a huge game for each team. Auburn is coming off its first SEC win as well as SEC road game against Kentucky in which it showed improvements on both sides of the ball. Another SEC win for the Tigers would inject some much needed momentum as they head into the teeth of their conference schedule. Arkansas has already faced some real adversity in their season by being upset by Toledo and Texas Tech.
Things certainly haven’t gone the way either team were expecting them to go prior to this season. The winner of this game, in some ways, will be able to breathe a sigh of relief and know that their season isn’t totally lost. The loser of this game will have to face the very real possibility of not even being bowl eligible this year.
A big game indeed.
Below, we’ll take a look at the side of the ball that is often overlooked for Arkansas…the defense. Much has been made of their running game and rightfully so. Since last year it’s been a dominating force in the SEC. Head coach Bret Bielema has made it a point to recruit the biggest and nastiest offensive linemen he can find to pave the way for his future NFL running backs. All while having a signal caller that has been statistically been one of the best quarterbacks in the conference over the last couple of years.
In my opinion though, Arkansas’s offense isn’t the most interesting facet of their team. It’s the Razorback defense that showed huge improvements mid-way through last season and is responsible for turning their season around. To further prove my point we only need to look at their ranking for total scoring defense in 2013 compared to 2014. In 2013 they ranked 89th nationally allowing 49 touchdowns for the season. In 2014 they ranked 9th nationally allowing 33 touchdowns for the season. Pretty dramatic turnaround.
Here we’ll take a look at how Arkansas’s defensive coordinator, Robb Smith, may play the Auburn offense. When Smith came to Arkansas in 2014 he inherited a mess of a defense but he brought with him a more simplified version of what his mentor, Greg Schiano, ran while with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For the most part, Smith’s defense is a base 4-3 over alignment that plays Quarter, Quarter, Half coverage (“QQH”) in the secondary.
So, what is Quarter, Quarter, Half coverage? Looking at the diagram below we can see that QQH is a variation of Cover-3 zone in which the weak side safety is responsible for covering half of the deep zones and the strong side safety and cornerback are each responsible for covering a quarter of the deep zones. In the example below we have an offense that is lined up in a shotgun formation with one running back, three wide receivers and a tight end or H-back that’s flexed off of the main formation (a formation that Auburn uses quite often).
One of the greatest strength’s of QQH coverage is how easily it can be disguised. Base alignment for QQH coverage puts the weak side cornerback playing either straight up with the wide receiver or shaded to the receivers outside shoulder. The strong side cornerback plays his receiver straight up, about 8 yards off of the line of scrimmage. The weak side safety is aligned with the inside shoulder of his receiver and the strong side safety is the deepest defender playing over both the strong side cornerback and weak side safety.
As stated earlier, QQH coverage is easily disguised. If both the strong side and weak side cornerbacks align at equal depths, this coverage can take on the look of Cover-2 zone when in reality QQH is a variation of Cover-3. The strong side defenders can also play with an inverted technique, also known as “Sky” where they show press-man coverage pre-snap and then bail at the snap. For young quarterbacks this can create confusion because the coverage responsibilities changes when a defender is in man coverage vs playing zone.
Playing with this type of coverage also allows the defense to keep three defenders in the deep zones and as many as five defenders in underneath zones depending on what front the defensive line is playing with (3 defensive linemen or 4 defensive linemen) while still being able to contain on the weak side. QQH coverage also pairs very well with fire zone blitzing which is something Robb Smith likes to do often.
So, how does any of the above relate to Auburn? Considering Auburn’s quarterback, Sean White, will be playing his fourth game as college football player I full expect Arkansas’s defense to confuse him and bait him into making bad throws. The key for Arkansas will be whether or not they can contain Auburn’s running game with only three defensive lineman. If this is the case then smith can allocate a fifth defender to the underneath zones which will make short, quick completions much more difficult.
While Auburn’s offense took a big step forward, the defense will need to step up in a big way against Arkansas. If there’s one thing we know about Arkansas, it’s that they will try and pound you into submission with their running game and chew up as much clock as they can. Auburn’s run defense is poor to say the least and Muschamp will have his work cut out for him trying to find away to plug the gaps in the defense. Offensively, Auburn’s running game hasn’t been dominant like in years past so I don’t think Arkansas will crowd the box and sell out to stop the run. Smith knows that one of Auburn’s weaknesses this year has been a lack of down field passing and he knows that Auburn won’t win the game with short and intermediate passes.
We all know this a big game for both programs. A game that Arkansas has likely had circled since last season. While Auburn looked much better against Kentucky they still haven’t played a complete game yet and their defense is very vulnerable against the run which is also Arkansas’s strength. Auburn’s best chance for winning in Fayetteville is to get score early in the game and force a turnover or two. Arkansas’s offense isn’t built to score quickly so if they fall behind early Auburn’s chances of winning greatly increase. If the Auburn offense comes out flat then the Razorbacks will try and churn out long drives while running the football down Auburn’s throat. No doubt that Bielema knows ball control is the way to beat Auburn.
Ultimately, I think Arkansas comes out of this with a win. I think their running game is too much for Auburn to handle and Auburn’s offense still isn’t clicking on all cylinders yet. I think Auburn plays well but, in the end, Arkansas plays better.
Arkansas 31 – Auburn 24
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