Auburn opponent early scouting report: Arkansas

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Auburn opponent early scouting report: Arkansas

We're taking an early look at Auburn's opponents for the 2018 regular season. This 12-part series will feature analysis and occasional insight from beat reporters who cover the teams Auburn will play this year.


Game date & time: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Sept. 22

2017 record: (4-8, 1-7 SEC)

Coach: Chad Morris, first year

Betting line: Auburn by 23

Returning starters: 9 offense, 8 defense, 2 specialists

Most important returning players: QB Cole Kelley, RB Devwah Whaley, LB De'Jon Harris, LB Dre Greenlaw

Most critical departures: QB Austin Allen, C Frank Ragnow, RB David Williams

Insight from Arkansas beat reporter Tom Murphy (@TomMurphyADG):

  1. Beyond pace, what have been the biggest changes to Arkansas' offense under Chad Morris?
    Probably just the adjustment to having fewer tight ends on the field, though they will still be used and were primary targets through most of the open scrimmages in the spring. The "tempo" factor is a major change, however, so getting the quarterbacks in the mode of working more quickly was a massive transition and will continue to be throughout camp.
  2. Is Devwah Whaley capable of being a 20-carry/game back in the SEC?
    Whaley is a solid, between-the-tackles style back who could probably handle a 20-carry load for a handful of games. But the truth is, the talent in the backfield with him, sophomore Chase Hayden, who was having a strong season before his injury vs. Auburn, junior speedster T.J. Hammonds and transfer Rakeem Boyd make it likely that 20-carry performances will be pretty rare with this team.
  3. What did Morris focus on with Cole Kelley in the spring and how prepared is he to be the full-time starter?
    Kelley opened spring with the first unit on offense and fell behind junior Ty Storey after about a week, as Storey was showing a better grasp of the new offensive concepts and lingo. So Kelley had to work on making a stronger commitment to studying the plans. He was also asked to lose weight, somewhere around 15 pounds, to be quicker on his feet to enhance the running aspect at quarterback Morris wants. Kelley went 2-2 as the starter with Austin Allen out last year, so he's been through tough battles against the top of the SEC West. He might be the favorite to eventually win the job, but Storey and freshman Conner Noland will get their looks.
  4. Now that time has passed, have Arkansas fans embraced Morris and recognized the scale of the rebuild or how big a contingent still wish Malzahn was the hire?
    I'd say Morris has done a terrific job of talking up the program and recruiting and the tradition at Arkansas and trying to bind the fan base together. He's met with a lot of Razorback clubs and talked at a lot of clinics and other functions and the recruiting by his staff has been non-stop and imaginative. It's tough to put a number on the percentage of fans who would have preferred a Malzahn hire. Considering Morris has a similar offensive style and a big recruiting presence in Texas, I'd say most fans are content to enjoy the upcoming ride.
  5. Assuming Arkansas is either 3-0 or 2-1 entering this game, what would a win or loss against Auburn mean?
    Clearly there will be a lot of hype surrounding the Arkansas at Auburn game due to the nature of the relationship between Morris and Malzahn and the fact it's Arkansas' SEC opener. The Razorbacks probably catch a small break in that the game will take place with Auburn coming off a physical, emotional game against LSU. Should Arkansas somehow find a way to beat the Tigers in Auburn in its SEC debut under Morris, well, that'd be a hell of a start for the new coaching staff.

Auburn story lines:

  • Can dominance in series continue?
    Auburn has absolutely dismantled Arkansas the last two seasons, with a 56-3 win in 2016 and 52-20 last year. Even amid a big rebuilding project, it could be a challenge to have such another lopsided outcome.
  • Keeping streak alive or rebounding from LSU
    Auburn will either be 3-0 or 2-1 having just lost to LSU. Either way, the Tigers will need to win to stay in contention in the SEC West.
  • Gus Malzahn's history with Arkansas
    Given the offseason attempt by Arkansas to hire Malzahn away from Auburn it'll only be natural to revisit his long history with the program.
  • Containing Devwah Whaley
    This will be the toughest test to date for Arkansas and though Chad Morris could bring more of a passing attack, riding a reliable hand on the road should also be expected. However, Whaley's career-high for carries in a game is 19, so if Auburn can contain him and force Cole Kelley to pass it could be in for another big day of getting to the quarterback.
  • Kevin Steele and John Chavis
    The lifelong friends with meet again as opposing defensive coordinators.

Arkansas story lines:

  • SEC opener
    Arkansas should be no worse than 2-1 but could be 3-0 after facing Eastern Illinois, Colorado State and North Texas. But a true road test to open SEC play with be far more difficult for Morris and the hogs.
  • Offensive identity
    There's almost no question that the biggest change for Arkansas compared to Bret Bielema's tenure will come on offense. Arkansas is shifting to an up-tempo attack under Morris and though it started to do so midway through last season, there should still be a big contrast. The question is whether the Razorbacks have the talent to play how Morris wants in the SEC week after week or if he'll have to compromise a bit to stay competitive.
  • Morris-Malzahn connection
    They met as high school coaches and began what has been a nearly 20-year friendship.
  • Has defense begun to turn around?
    Arkansas was last in the SEC in scoring and 13th in total defense last season, so in many ways there's only one direction to go. But after a less than stellar run at Texas A&M there are a lot of doubters of Chavis and there's no question that this is one of the biggest rebuilds he's faced.

An Auburn win would mean:

Notching a widely-expected SEC win. Whether Auburn is 3-0, 2-1 or even 1-2 entering this game, the Tigers will be a multi-score favorite.

An Auburn loss would mean:

A devastating SEC loss it can't afford. It's hard to look so lowly at an SEC West opponent, but Arkansas went 4-8 overall and 1-7 in the SEC last season. There's no way Auburn can afford to lose a game to a team going through such a rebuild. Fortunately, this shouldn't be of any concern.

James Crepea is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @JamesCrepea.

from Auburn Sports Impact

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