It's just about here. Kickoff is just two days away. At 3 p.m. Saturday all the talk will stop, and Arkansas and Auburn will finally just play football. There will be no breaking of bread or rocks thrown. Just football.
And if you're like me, you'll be watching closely for the improvements players and coaches have been raving about since before the spring game in April. How will Brandon Allen look? Will his work with Chris Weinke at IMG Academy pay off? What will Robb Smith's new defense look like? There are so many unknowns heading into Saturday.
Other than that, here's what I'll be watching for:
1. Arkansas' opening sequence
Whether Arkansas elects to receive the ball to begin the game or defer and play defense first, each team's opening drive will be telling. If Arkansas can put even a small drive together on their first possession it would be encouraging. Move the ball, collect a first down or two – just don't go run, run, pass, punt and let the crowd get involved. I believe Arkansas will be creative with the play calling on the first drive, which could lead to getting points on the board early.
And once Smith's new defense takes the field for the first time, I feel it's vital the Tigers don't put a touchdown on the board. The last thing a team that may not have the most confidence needs is adversity from the get-go. Keeping Auburn's sellout crowd out of the game is important. The energy an opening drive touchdown would give Auburn's defense, too, would also be detrimental to Arkansas.
2. If Arkansas can avoid 3rd down and long
This is pretty self explanatory. Avoid negative plays and plays for no gain on first and second downs and stay in front of the chains. If the Razorbacks can mix up the playcalling and not become predictable in the early downs, this shouldn't be too much of an issue. But should Arkansas fail at this, Auburn will know what's coming on third and medium-to-long.
3. If a newcomer emerges at receiver
Bielema and his staff did a terrific job adding depth to the receiving corps in the last recruiting class. Now, it's time for those guys to produce. Cody Hollister is a big body that could cause matchup problems for the Tiger secondary, and Jared Cornelius is another guy to keep an eye on.
Auburn knows the usual suspects for Arkansas will likely be Hunter Henry and Keon Hatcher. But having another receiver or two emerge as a playmaker would be huge for Allen and the offense.
4. The fullback position
When Arkansas released its depth chart for the season opener, there was one glaring issue – it didn't include a fullback. As we all know, the fullback is vital in the Arkansas power running game. Sure, an enormous offensive line is nice to have, but the fullback really make things go.
It also seems, despite giving out scholarships to fullbacks, that Bielema is having a hard time settling on a fullback. It will definitely be a position to watch Saturday, because Bielema also likes to reward the big guys by using them in the passing game. We'll just have to see how it plays out.
5. Arkansas' O-line vs. Auburn's D-line
#Arkansas' five starters on the offensive line average 319.6 pounds per man. Only four NFL teams have a bigger starting OL.— Danny West (@DannyWest1) August 25, 2014
Arkansas' offensive line is pretty enormous, but they'll face a challenge in a rather large Tiger defensive line. Depsite the loss of Carl Lawson, Auburn has an answer – Gabe Wright, who is moving from DT to DE. Auburn's plan is to go big on the line to try to match Arkansas' size and stop the run game. If Arkansas wins the battle up front, the offense should be in solid shape.
6. Arkansas' ability to tackle in space
For most of this list, I haven't hit much on the Razorback defense, but this is a huge key to the game if Arkansas wants to remain competitive throughout. Arkansas is notorious for not being very good in space defensively, but we've yet to see how players react in Robb Smith's new scheme.
You have to have speed and the athletes to be able to contain Auburn's run game, and you have to be able to make plays in space. I'm sure Arkansas' linebackers and secondary have heard this a time or two this week.
What will you be watching for Saturday? Am I off on something? Did I miss anything?
- Reasons to Hate: Auburn
- Arkansas Fight Panel Discussion Part I: Razorbacks Season Storylines & Predictions
- Eureka Pizza Offering Pizza for Pennies "WHEN" Arkansas Beats Auburn
- Hog Trough Fancast #112 - Let's Pick'em, Coach!
- Arkansas Razorbacks Internet Chatter: August 25 - Auburn Preview, Hunter Henry, LizHoney