The Auburn Tigers and Arkansas Razorbacks meet for the 33rd time this weekend. Auburn leads the series 19-12-1, with Arkansas taking the last meeting in a 41-27 route on Auburn’s home turf last year. The Tigers hope to get their payback this weekend, headed into Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium for the afternoon kickoff.
It is safe to say both teams have somewhat struggled this year.
For Auburn, embarking on the first season under Hugh Freeze and coming off a 5-7 season, the struggle was expected. Now, sitting at 5-4, already matching the previous years win total, there is excitement in what is being built. Freeze is just one win away from bowl eligibility, something that would make his year one seen as a success.
Hugh Freeze: "We're looking to become bowl eligible. That's big in year one."
— Justin Hokanson (@_JHokanson) November 6, 2023
Despite that, the team has been mediocre. On the offensive side of the ball, expectations were high for Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne. In 29 games at Michigan State, Thorne threw for 6,501 yards, 49 touchdowns and threw 24 interceptions. In just nine games at Auburn, Thorne has not performed so well, throwing for 1,269 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Due to QB struggles, along with other factors, Auburn ranks 115th in the NCAA in passing offense, 89th in total offense and tied for 52nd in the country in passes intercepted at seven. All around, the team has not clicked.
1. This is not all on Payton Thorne. He is to blame for some but not everything.
2. Game management has been pretty bad thus far.
3. Auburn lacks playmakers all around on the offensive side of the ball outside of RB.
4. That makes for a pretty easy recruiting pitch.
— Babysitter Bari (@BabysitterBari) October 15, 2023
On the Arkansas side, sitting at an abysmal 3-6 record, the season has already led to firings and fans upset. OC Dan Enos was fired just a few weeks ago due to the struggling offense, which ranks 106th in total offense currently.
More touchdowns in Arkansas’s first three minutes under Kenny Guiton than there was all of last game under Dan Enos.
— Will Whitson (@will_whitson2) November 4, 2023
Expectations were high for the Razorbacks, coming off two above-.500 seasons under Sam Pittman. Star QB KJ Jefferson coming into his senior year and Raheim Sanders expected to stay on the rise coming into his junior year looked like a recipe for success. Yet, now, the season looks lost.
Coming in Mild
Despite the shared struggles, both teams come into the matchups off wins. Arkansas looks to stay hot with its new OC, scoring 39 points in the away win vs the Florida Gators, as Auburn looks to extend its win streak to three after a solid 31-15 win over Vanderbilt.
Despite both teams having poor offenses throughout the year, they both have looked much improved as of late.
For Auburn, Thorne and the offense have seemingly found some chemistry. In his past two games, Thorne has thrown for a combined 424 yards and five touchdowns, completing almost 68% of his passes and throwing one pick. He also graded out extremely well in PFFs QB system after his week nine performance.
For Arkansas, anything would have been an improvement after losing 10-7 against Mississippi State, but the 39 point overtime win on the road was very impressive. In the win, QB KJ Jefferson threw for 255 yards while running for 90, a season high, and accounting for three touchdowns. The offensive outburst is a good sign moving forward.
Yet, even with the strong performances from both starting QBs recently, there was still a lingering problem, turnovers. With eight interceptions for Jefferson and six for Thorne, the turnover bug still remains. In both teams wins last week, both QBs threw interceptions.
PICK. SIX. BRYCE. COWAN pic.twitter.com/tl8PrWUVN9
— Vanderbilt Football (@VandyFootball) November 4, 2023
With both teams clicking on offense, it looks like a shootout on the horizon. Both QBs are struggling with turnovers, so it may just come down to who can keep the ball safe the best.
With both teams looking improved in recent weeks, it is no secret a win would be huge. An SEC matchup between two under-whelming teams so far from an outside view may seem insignificant, but this game screams must-win for both sides.
With a potential shootout brewing, both teams will fight for the win on Saturday in the 4 p.m. kickoff.