Auburn may have taken a gut-punch when LSU drilled a field goal as time ran out for a 22-21 victory last week, but at least coach Gus Malzahn’s crew doesn’t have to live down an embarrassing YouTube clip like Arkansas, this week’s opponent.
The No. 9 Tigers (2-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) and Razorbacks (1-2, 0-0) clash Saturday with kickoff at 7:30 p.m. ET at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. The SEC Network will air the game.
As if the 44-17 whipping the Razorbacks took from North Texas last week wasn’t bad enough, salt was thrown on that wound by the video clip that shows the visiting Mean Green completely taking in the Hogs on a fake punt return.
Yes, a fake punt return, not a fake punt.
Keegan Brewer of North Texas caught an Arkansas punt at his own 10-yard line, virtually standing straight up in securing the ball in his midsection. Razorback defenders apparently figured that Brewer had made a fair catch and, after approaching him, veered off to the sideline when he didn’t move.
Brewer waited until his blockers were set up along the left sideline and then took off, not stopping until he was 90 yards away and dancing in the end zone for a touchdown that gave North Texas an early 14-0 lead.
“You’ve got to play it all the way through, you’ve got to play through the whistle. That was my message,” Arkansas coach Chad Morris said. “You’ve got to play through the whistle. So many guys were getting down the field. You’ve got to get your eyes up and you’ve got to look for the fair catch call.
“One of the guys said ‘Hey, look Coach, I thought he put his hand up in his face,’ but a true fair catch signal was not given and it was evident on that. He stopped and he delayed. We were right there in position, but you’ve got to play through the whistle.
“That was my message to those guys.”
Auburn’s issues are more mundane. For a second straight season, the Tigers are coming off a gut-wrenching loss to LSU that doesn’t completely derail their SEC hopes, but leaves the team looking for help in the SEC West Division.
“At the first of the season, from a head coach’s standpoint, you get up in front of your team and you give them the plan for the whole year,” Malzahn said. “And you’ve got to be aware of what you’re going to go through. And like I said before, at least we went through it last year and know what it feels like, know what it looks like.”
It’s a matter, Malzahn said, of flipping the switch and focusing on the game just ahead.
“You can’t worry about last week,” he said. “You can’t worry about the next week. You can’t worry about how good this team’s playing or that team’s playing.
“That’s the simple answer, and that’s easier said than done. A lot of teams can’t do that. That’s our challenge, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Tactically, Malzahn is still working on getting the more out of his running game. The Tigers rushed for 130 yards in the loss to LSU. Junior Kam Martin has started at running back, but is getting a heavy push from freshman JaTarvious “Boobee” Whitlow, Shaun Shivers and Asa Martin.
“Those freshmen running backs, every snap they are getting better,” Malzahn said. “They are understanding the blocking scheme, whether it’s a gap or zone scheme. You even started to see Boobee start to slow down a little bit. We’ve been trying to get him to slow down some and read it.
“We are still in the early stages of our run game, and it’s kind of what I said with our offensive line. With the running backs, I’m confident we are going to get better just with the more experience that group has.”