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October 4, 2011

AU traveling to top-10 SEC opponent, again

Video: Gene Chizik previews Arkansas

For the second consecutive week, Auburn will go on the road to face a top-10 SEC opponent as it travels to No. 10 Arkansas Saturday.

If the Tigers are to return to the Plains with a win like they did a week ago at then-No. 10 South Carolina, all aspects of Auburn's game will have to improve, coach Gene Chizik said Tuesday during his weekly press conference.

"We've got another great challenge this week, another tough road game against a very, very good football team," said Chizik. "Arkansas is a very, very good football team that will challenge for the SEC Western Division championship. There's no doubt about that.

"They have a lot of starters returning from last year's team. They can run the ball and throw the ball. They execute their offense as well as anyone in the country executes an offense."

The Razorbacks are coming off of a 42-38 win over Texas A&M, a game in which they trailed by 18 points. Arkansas' ability to score quickly and often is one of the bigger challenges the Tigers' defense will face.

Arkansas and coach Bobby Petrino boast the SEC's No. 1 passing offense (351.8 yards per game), No. 1 scoring offense (39.4 points per game) and the No. 1 total offense (471.8 yards per game). The Razorbacks are also No. 2 in the SEC in first downs and No. 3 in passing efficiency.

"It's an offense that is tough to slow down," said Chizik. "They are really good at what they do. They have players that have been in their system long enough now that they have a great feel for it. And they have really good players that execute extremely well on offense."

Arkansas (4-1, 0-1 SEC) is led on offense by quarterback Tyler Wilson. The junior is in his first year as the Razorbacks' starting quarterback, but already has put up veteran-like numbers. Wilson is 111-of-173 passing (64.5%), for 1,517 yards (303.4 yards per game) and 10 touchdowns. He has only thrown three interceptions.

Last week against Texas A&M, ranked No. 8 at the time, Wilson connected on 30-of-51 passing attempts for 510 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

"He is playing really, really well in the system," said Chizik. "He played against a very good defense last week and was very productive."

Wilson's productivity and success can be attributed to the guys catching his passes. According to Chizik, Arkansas has "arguably the best receiver corps in the country."

Razorback senior Jarius Wright leads the group with a team-high 28 catches for 478 yards (17.1 avg.) and five touchdowns. He had 13 receptions for 281 yards and a score last week against the Aggies. Joining Wright Arkansas' biggest receiving threats are senior Joe Adams, who has 21 catches for 235 yards and a touchdown, and junior Cobi Hamilton, who has 17 receptions for 318 yards (18.7 avg.) and two scores.

"They have 3-4 very talented wide receivers that are very explosive and very fast," said Chizik. "They are very, very good with the ball in their hands after the catch. What they are all good at is you can tell there is definitely a conscious coaching effort for them to get yards after the catch.

"It will be huge for us to tackle those guys in space and limit the yards after the catch. That is exactly where they will hurt you. That will be key for us."

Junior running back Ronnie Wingo and junior tight end Chris Gragg area also threats through the air. The two have combined for 28 catches, 307 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

The one area of Arkansas' offense that isn't statistically among the best in the SEC is its run game. Arkansas' leading rusher is Wingo, who averages just 56.8 yards per game. As a team, the Razorbacks are averaging just 120 rushing yards per game.

"Going into every game, we know we have to stop the run," said Chizik. "But when you have a team throwing for 350 yards per game, it gives you a little bit different train of thought because that is where their production has been so over the top compared to everybody else. We have our work cut out for us. We will have to play better defensively.

"This is going to be a phenomenal test for our guys. We have faced some really, really good offenses up to this point, but this one right here may be the best out of all of the ones we have faced."



Quick-hitters




*** Arkansas is a perfect 20-of-20 inside the red zone this season, which leads the SEC and is tied for No. 1 in FBS. Seventy-five percent of the time, the Razorbacks score touchdowns when inside the 20-yard line.

*** Sophomore running back Michael Dyer rushed 41 times last week against South Carolina, tying a school record for most carries in a game. He ended up with 141 rushing yards and a touchdown, but also a minor injury to his ankle late in the game. Dyer returned after the injury and Chizik said he expects the Arkansas-native to be ready to play Saturday.

"He is doing fine," said Chizik. "He's going to practice as normal, as usual. He'll be excited to play. Going back to Arkansas, he'll be excited to play and he will be ready to go."

*** Junior wideout Emory Blake also sustained an injury last week against South Carolina, but Chizik said it is a little more severe than Dyer's.

"We won't know until later in the week, but I'm not hopeful right now on Emory," said Chizik. "I'm not going to rule him out, but we are planning to play without him. That will be our two top receivers that we are not going to play with, him and Trovon Reed."

Chizik said that would open the door for other receivers.

"It would be great opportunities for the Quindarius Carrs, the Travante Stallworths, the Quan Brays and DeAngelo Benton…some of the other guys," said Chizik. "It will be a great opportunity for those guys to step up if (Blake) does not play.

"Again, we will keep working on (Blake) until the end of the week, but I'm not hopeful right now."

*** During a speech to the Monday Morning Quarterback Club in Birmingham this week, former Arkansas head coach and now Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt accused Chizik of "stealing" Jermaine Whitehead shortly before signing day.

"Gene Chizik came in and stole my man Jermaine Whitehead," Nutt said, according to a report in The Birmingham News Monday. "I asked Gene, 'Now Gene, you didn't even have a home visit.' It must be nice to hold up that crystal ball. Hold up a crystal ball and get one of my best players."

When asked about Nutt's comments Tuesday during his weekly press conference, Chizik said, "I'm trying to beat Arkansas. I don't worry about all of those outside distractions."

Auburn (4-1, 2-0 SEC) travels to Arkansas (4-1, 0-1 SEC) Saturday for a 6 p.m. CT kickoff. The game will be televised by ESPN.



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