1. Arkansas Expects Marshall
Auburn coach Gus Malzhan said quarterback Nick Marshall remains day-to-day because of a shoulder injury he suffered against Florida Atlantic last week and may be a "game time" decision when the Tigers play at Arkansas on Saturday.
The Razorbacks aren’t buying it, though. Defensive coordinator Chris Ash said Wednesday he "absolutely" expects to see Marshall under center Saturday.
"I don’t know why he wouldn’t," Ash said.
The quarterback has been key to Auburn’s offensive success this season, throwing for 1,148 yards with 6 touchdowns and rushing for 461 yards and 5 more in seven games. He’s a key part of Auburn’s SEC-leading rushing offense (315.4 yards), leading a group that has topped the 600-yard mark in the past three games.
Ash described Marshall as a "dynamic runner." He said the Tigers’ ability to run a true downhill zone read presents a "unique challenge" for Arkansas’ defense, which was gashed by Alabama’s power ground game in the 52-0 loss on Oct. 19.
Marshall left last Saturday’s game in the first half after hurting his shoulder and was replaced by Jeremy Johnson. The freshman would start if Marshall couldn’t play and has been successful in his three appearances this season.
"Their offense is their offense," Ash said. "Regardless of who is back there they’ve got a certain set of plays they’re going to run no matter what. We’re preparing for a lot of stuff. They run a lot of plays, a lot of different personnel packages and they present a lot of challenges because of it.
"Regardless of who’s at quarterback, they’re going to run their offense."
But Arkansas believes it will be Marshall, who has participated in practice every day this week according to the Auburn coaching staff.
"We read that he practiced on Sunday and I don’t think we have any doubt at all he is going to be the guy there," Arkansas defensive ends coach Charlie Partridge said.
2. Turnover Trouble
Arkansas has struggled in nearly every area during Southeastern Conference play, but one of the most glaring has been the Razorbacks’ turnover troubles.
The Razorbacks are minus-9 in turnover in conference games, which ranks last in the SEC. Arkansas has turned the ball over 10 times in four games, while forcing one. It came on a botched quarterback-running back exchange against South Carolina.
Bielema said the struggles have been "very, very frustrating."
"Defensively, we’ve got to do a better of capitalizing on the opportunities when they come our way," Bielema said. "Whether it be a strip attempt or there’s so many times where you can see a ball that could possibly have a better result for us, whether it’s ball security, hitting the quarterback from the blindside, ball carrier that doesn’t have the ball secured high and tight."
Arkansas fullback Kiero Small said the offense has to hold up its end and protect the ball. The Razorbacks committed three turnovers in the Alabama loss.
"You can’t turn the ball over," Small said. "That’s just in football period. The team that wins the turnover ratio wins the game. We turn the ball over and don’t do things in the rhythm of the offense then it’s pretty hard to get out there and win."
3. Not More Film Talk
Bielema appears to be done talking about the Auburn film issue.
He was asked about during the SEC Teleconference and said the Razorbacks heard back from the conference about the situation. Bielema also confirmed he didn’t have any conversations with Auburn about it. But he wouldn’t elaborate further.
"Obviously, the issue is being handled by the SEC and that’s about all I can say," Bielema said, adding later he simply followed protocol by informing the SEC.
Bielema also was asked about it during his weekly appearance on ESPNU’s College Football Daily show. He declined to answer the question.
"I notified the SEC when I became aware of it and commented, that was Monday at my press conference," Bielema said. "Since that point, the league has kind of handled it so we’ll put that little story and put it to bed."
4. No-Huddle Challenge
Bielema may not be a fan of the hurry-up, no-huddle offense, but his team will see it against Auburn on Saturday. So Ash said the pace will be challenging for the Hogs.
"You have to make sure you have enough depth that you can rotate guys and they stay fresh, especially up front," Ash said. "I think we do that and have that. Right now when they go fast it’s more just being able to get aligned and make sure everyone is on the same page and able to have our cleats in the ground and our eyes on our keys and be able to react when the ball is snapped.
"The consistent challenge is consistently to be right in doing that."