Once upon a time, Arkansas and Auburn had only encountered one another on a single occasion: the 1984 Liberty Bowl, won by Auburn 21-15. But then the Hogs' Southwest Conference cohorts started getting hauled before the magistrate annually, TV money started becoming important, and the Fayetteville brass took their product to the SEC in the summer of 1992. Arkansas has played Auburn annually since then, and over 24 meetings Auburn holds a slim 13-10-1 edge. For our purposes, the most important of those was two weeks ago; Arkansas has the distinction of being the only team we're checking in with during this series that's already encountered the Tigers this season.
For almost 40 minutes, Arkansas had Auburn on their heels; a 19-yard touchdown run by Nick Marshall broke a 21-21 tie, and a 33-yard pick six by Jermaine Whitehead near the end of the third quarter essentially sealed the deal. But it was a telling performance. Arkansas demonstrated that Auburn can be scored on; now K-State needs to determine whether Auburn can be stopped.
Joining us today is Doc Harper, chief instigator over at SB Nation's Hog Blog Arkansas Fight. Doc's probably got the best perspective on both teams in this game of anyone; that loss to Auburn is fresh in his memory and, of course, Arkansas has actually played K-State recently too.
Jon: Before we get into the product on the field, this wouldn't be any fun if we didn't dig into off-field topics too. So let's start with this: Tell us about your absolute worst memory of an Auburn game, and your favorite moment against them.
Doc: My worst Auburn memory has to be 2010. It was a top ten game at Jordan-Hare and it turned into the biggest shootout in SEC history (that didn’t go to overtime). Noted clean player Nick Fairley knocked Ryan Mallett out of the game in the first half with a concussion, but Tyler Wilson came in and played out of his mind.
Hogs and Tigers
The thing that really hurts about that game is that there were two replay reviews that pretty clearly should have gone Arkansas’ way, but they didn’t, and both plays resulted in touchdowns for Auburn instead of Arkansas possessions. The first was a strip just before Auburn scored a touchdown early, and the official signaled on the field that Arkansas recovered the fumble and it was Arkansas’ possession, but then the referee said the original ruling was a touchdown and there wasn’t enough to overturn it. The second play was in the fourth quarter after Arkansas had just earned a rare stop against Cam Newton’s offense. On the ensuing drive, it was ruled our running back fumbled and the ball was returned for a touchdown, but one video angle clearly showed his knee was down. Wilson couldn’t keep up the magic after losing the momentum there and threw two picks and the game was over. At the very end of the game, Auburn put in Little Rock-native Michael Dyer, who had been sitting out the game for some unknown injury, and while everyone on the field was exhausted he ran in a long eff-you touchdown run.
The way the season played out, that game ended up being the SEC West championship game. If Arkansas had won, the Hogs would’ve gone to Atlanta and played South Carolina. I’ll always be bitter about that game. I don’t like to complain about refs, but every fan base has a handful of specific calls in their history they know screwed them out of something and that will always be the case with me and that Auburn game.
The best win was in 2006 when Auburn was ranked #2 and Arkansas was unranked and the Hogs went down to the Plains and beat them pretty handily. That was Darren McFadden’s introduction to the national stage.
Jon: We're always a bit curious about how we're viewed outside the Big 12. Unlike everyone else we're grilling here, you've got some recent experience with this after crushing our dreams in Arlington a few years back. What are your impressions of K-State?
Doc: I think K-State is the type of program you always have to respect. You can’t ever overlook them because they will play solid football. Even in years when the Wildcats aren’t an elite team they still have the ability to knock off an elite team.
P.S. may Bob Holt’s post-Cotton Bowl question to Bill Snyder -- “So what’d you think of Joe Adams’ punt return?” -- live on forever in the annals of journalism.
Jon: Luck plays a part in everything, obviously, and almost no team wins a championship without catching a break here and there. Do you feel Auburn's run to the BCS title game last year was more a function of fortune than talent, or did they really belong?
Doc: They were good enough to play in the title game. They nearly won it, so they proved that. But there’s no question that they were incredibly fortunate through the season. Everybody talks about the Kick Six, but what Auburn was really lucky about was all the missed field goals by Alabama earlier in the game. If not for that, Alabama doesn’t even attempt that kick at the end because they’ve got the game won. Obviously the Georgia ending was a truly lucky play. Go through their year against Texas A&M and Ole Miss and Mississippi State and you’ll see different breaks that all went their way. But they were a good team. They were able to capitalize on those breaks and other opportunities throughout the year. That’s what good teams do.
Jon: How about this year? What are your impressions of the team in general, and how serious a threat do you think they are to reach the playoff? Other than Nick Marshall, who should we be really concerned about?
Doc: They’re a legit SEC title contender, so they can definitely reach the playoff. Nick Marshall’s great, but we’re still waiting to see if he’ll throw more passes. If he does, both Sammie Coates and Duke Williams are fantastic receivers. Their rushing attack is unorthodox but incredibly effective.
Jon: Granted you probably don't follow K-State as closely as you do Auburn (which is why we're doing this in the first place), but is there anything you've seen with Auburn that you think K-State is well-positioned to exploit?
Doc: Arkansas was able to move the ball very effectively in the first half through powerful running and effective play action. I don’t think Auburn is an elite defensive team so the Wildcats should be able to create some opportunities for themselves.
Jon: They're coming to our place, and that means that at least some of their fans will be there too. Now, level with us: what's that going to be like if they've got any sizable presence?
Doc: They will likely have a sizable presence. They’re generally considered some of the more friendly fans in the SEC so I don’t think you’ll have riots or anything. But you’ll certainly know they’re there.
Jon: Finally, it's that obligatory moment when I wring a prediction out of you. What's your call?
Doc: I’m at the point until proven otherwise that I’ll always expect Auburn to pull a win out their butt at the last minute. So I’ll say Auburn 34, K-State 31.
Doc, we really appreciate your time and great responses. As far as the Twitter experience, a thought on Auburn from an Arkansas fan:
@jonfmorse All you need to know: the "grassy knoll" ain't got shit on #ElevatorGate2k14 The Truth Is Out There.— Gus (@AugustusThe3rd) September 12, 2014