Stat Tiger Picks the SEC: Week One

Stuart Carter crunches the numbers and picks a winner in this week's Auburn and other SEC games in his StatTiger column.

Nick Marshall (above) started 13 games at quarterback last season for the Tigers.

Arkansas at No. 5 Auburn

Series Record:12-10-1 (Auburn)

Last Meeting: 2013 (Auburn, 35-17)

About the teams:

*Both the Tigers and Razorbacks enter the second year with their current head coaches. Gus Malzahn led Auburn to a 12-2 record, capturing the Southeastern Conference Championship, while Arkansas, under the guidance of Bret Bielema, struggled to a 3-9 record and finished 0-8 in conference play.

Bielema enters his ninth year as a head coach, compiling a 71-33 record. Malzahn is 21-5 overall.

Bret Bielema is shown at a preseason practice in Fayetteville.

Arkansas returns 16 starters from 2013 with seven on offense, eight on defense and one on special teams. The Tigers return 14 starters with eight on offense and six on defense.

Last season Arkansas went 0-3 in games decided by seven points or less while Auburn was 5-1.

In the last four recruiting classes, Auburn signed a total of 50 players rated as 4-stars or better, according to Scout.com, while Arkansas signed 20.

Auburn has 22 players on its roster with at least 20 games of starting experience and Arkansas has 13.

Auburn has compiled a 9-3 record during its last 12 season openers against a conference opponent.

The Razorbacks hired Robb Smith as their new defensive coordinator, a coach who is expected to bring an aggressive style of play.

Nick Marshall will be the first returning starter at quarterback Malzahn has fielded while coaching at the collegiate level.

From 1992-2013 Auburn won 68 percent of its games, which ranks No. 16 nationally. Arkansas won 55 percent, which ranks No. 44 nationally.

Inside the Numbers...

*The Razorback offense will rely heavily on the running back duo of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. They combined for 1,926 yards rushing on 340 attempts during 2013.

Alex Collins is one of the top running backs in the SEC.

*Collins and Williams rushed for a combined 196-yards on 33 carries against Auburn last season. Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant had a combined 10 yards on three attempts against the Razorbacks.

*Both teams’ defenses struggled against the run last season. Auburn ranked No. 63 in run rushing defense while Arkansas was No. 79 nationally.

*Both teams return their starting quarterbacks. Marshall posted a quarterback rating of 143.2 and Brandon Allen had a rating of 109.0.

*Last season Auburn finished No. 87 in total defense and No. 47 in scoring defense. Arkansas was No. 76 in total defense and No. 89 in scoring defense.

*Though both offenses are centered around a strong running attack, the Razorbacks were not as run-heavy as Auburn during 2013. The Tigers ran the ball 71.9 percent of the time while the Razorbacks ran the ball on 61.2 percent of their plays.

*Malzahn's offense has averaged 483 yards and 36 points per game during season openers.

*Since joining the Southeastern Conference, Arkansas is 32-53-1 on the road in conference play, including a 6-13 record during the past five seasons.

*From 1992-2013 the team with the most rushing yardage during the Auburn vs. Arkansas games is 15-6-1 in the series.

*During Auburn’s last 25 conference games the Tigers have allowed 204.4 yards rushing per contest at 5.08 yards per attempt.

*Malzahn's offenses have averaged 424 yards and 35 points per game at home in conference play.

What to watch...

*Look for Arkansas to throw frequently on first down to keep the Auburn defense unsettled. The Tigers were No. 88 last season in pass efficiency defense on first down plays.

Brandon Allen is the starting quarterback for the Razorbacks.

*Jeremy Johnson is expected to start the game for the Tigers at quarterback, but how much will he play? Johnson attempted only four pass attempts in conference games last season.

*Auburn averaged 366.7 yards rushing per outing during its last 10 games of the 2013 season with an average of 6.7 yards per attempt. Arkansas controlled the Auburn running game last year in comparison to many other defenses, holding the Tigers to 233 yards at 5.1 yards per rush.

*During last year's meeting Arkansas totaled 74 offensive snaps to Auburn’s 55. The Razorbacks will likely win the time of possession and snap total again, but the Tigers will be okay as long as they are efficient with their opportunities.

*Season openers and bowl games can be tricky, primarily because of the additional preparation time for both teams. It will likely take most of the first half for both the Tigers and Razorbacks to adjust to the new wrinkles executed by each team.

*Improving Auburn’s run defense is one of Coach Ellis Johnson's primary goals in 2014. That can only be achieved with a better performance by the defensive line.

Ellis Johnson is in his second year as Auburn's defensive coordinator.

*Don't expect the Auburn offensive line to operate smoothly in game one. Individually they are talented, but will need a couple of games to come together as a unit.

*Because the majority of Auburn’s long runs came on the perimeter during 2013, most defenses schemed to take away the edge and take their chances on the inside running game. Will Artis-Payne or the other running backs be able to consistently make runs of five and six yards between the tackles?

Keys to victory...

*Turnovers killed the Razorbacks last year with three miscues against Auburn while the Tigers had no turnovers in the game at Fayetteville. Since Arkansas joined the SEC, Auburn is 4-1 against the Razorbacks when the Tigers win the turnover battle. Auburn is 3-3, when the two split the turnover ratio and 4-6-1 when the Tigers lose the turnover battle.

*A quick start on offense has always been a key to victory for the Tigers. They are 113-11-0 from 1981-2013 when scoring at least 10 points during the first quarter.

*Auburn will need its quarterbacks to play well to keep the running game alive. The Razorback defense will likely sell out to stop the run, forcing the Tigers to win this game by throwing the football.

*Last season Marshall completed only 28 percent of his deep passes compared to Cam Newton's 44 percent during the 2010 season. The opportunities will be there in 2014, but Will Marshall cash in on them more frequently?

*In order for Auburn's offense to operate smoothly, it must be efficient on first down. Malzahn’s offense at Auburn averages 42 points per game when averaging at least six yards per play on first down and 29 points when it doesn’t.

Auburn has won 83 percent of its games from 2000-2013 when averaging more yards on first down than its opponent and only 55 percent when it doesn’t.

Final Word...

Auburn enters the season highly ranked in almost every preseason poll, but faces a brutal schedule that would be a major task for any team in the country. Though Auburn returns plenty of key performers from last year's SEC Championship squad, every new year brings a new team personality. Auburn began the 2013 season as a hunter, but will be the hunted to begin the 2014 campaign.

Arkansas has never been a major rival for Auburn, which might explain why this matchup has always been so close. The Razorbacks will likely be emotionally pumped to take on the defending SEC Champion on the road. This might be the emotional spark and necessary motivation for the visitors to be competitive in this game.

Marshall won't start the game, but is expected to play. The key will be his level of composure when he is inserted into the game. Will he be focused or will he feel pressed to make something happen right away? It might take him a series or two to find his rhythm.

Until Marshall makes his 2014 debut the quarterback position will be manned by Jeremy Johnson, who will make his first conference start. The Razorbacks will likely apply as much pressure on Johnson as possible to test the mettle of the true sophomore. This will create opportunities for Auburn's superb receiving corps, especially if the Razorbacks are selling out to stop the run.

Bielema’s record is 8-20 against ranked opponents, including a 3-18 mark on the road against ranked competition. His second season at Arkansas should bring about development, but probably not enough to take down the Tigers on the road.

The Tigers are heavily favored, but turnovers and miscues can turn a possible rout into a close ball game. With the several key injuries and loss of personnel, Auburn won’t likely be operating at full capacity. During the past five years Auburn has surrendered more than 200 rushing yards rushing on 23 occasions, compiling a record of 11-12 in those games. If Arkansas can avoid turnovers, this game could be closer than expected. Auburn 38, Arkansas 23

Around the Southeastern Conference:

South Carolina over Texas A&M
Ole Miss over Boise State
Vanderbilt over Temple
Kentucky over Tennessee-Martin
Alabama over West Virginia
Missouri over South Dakota State
Georgia over Clemson
Florida over Idaho
Mississippi State over Southern Miss
LSU over Wisconsin
Tennessee over Utah State

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