FAYETTEVILLE — Gashed in last Saturday’s 52-51 loss for a combined 221 rushing yards yards by Ole Miss Rebels running backs Henry Parrish and Snoop Conner, Arkansas’ defense now is asked to stop a Tank.
Tank Bigsby, the Auburn’s Tigers compactly built 6-foot-0, 208-pound running back, running 146 yards on the Razorbacks last year in Auburn, Alabama, runs 4-2, overall/1-1 in the SEC Auburn on to the Reynolds Razorback Stadium’s Frank Broyles Field for Saturday’s CBS televised SEC West game.
Coach Sam Pittman’s nationally No. 17 Razorbacks bring 4-2 overall/1-2 SEC records into their annual homecoming game.
“Tank Bigsby is as good as any running back in the nation,” Pittman said on Wednesday’s SEC Coaches/Media teleconference.
Pittman delved into why, noting Bigsby’s Auburn contributions to its 30-28 victory over Arkansas last year at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“We have to tackle him,” Pittman said. “It’s going to be very crucial. You’re watching the tape, there’s a lot of people who had trouble with him too. I can just remember from rewatching the game as well from last year, we just couldn’t get him on the ground. He has those big, strong, powerful legs. We’re going to have to get a lot of guys around him gang tackle him to help each other get him on the ground because he is that special of a player.”
As the Razorbacks learned trying also to contain run-pass Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral, 94 yards and two touchdowns rushing and 287 yards and two touchdowns passing against Arkansas, and Ole Miss learned with Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson rushing 85 yards and two touchdowns and 326 yards and three touchdowns passing, mobile quarterbacks greatly enhance their running backs.
Arkansas freshman running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders netted a game-leading 139 rushing yards with Ole Miss so bedeviled by Jefferson running and passing.
Also Arkansas junior running back Trelon Smith netted 85 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries while freshman running backs Dominique Johnson and AJ Green combined for 35 yards on seven carries.
Auburn junior quarterback Bo Nix epitomizes the run-pass threat, especially on his improvised scrambles.
“Bo extends plays with his legs very well,” Arkansas senior linebacker Grant Morgan said. “And when he does it, he doesn’t just put his eyes down. He looks up always. He always finds that next receiver that’s open when he goes into scramble.”
Both Pittman and first-year Auburn coach Bryan Harsin, the former Arkansas State and Boise State coach, were repeatedly asked about Sanders, the true freshman originally recruited as a receiver out of Rockledge, Florida.
“We’re all recruiting gurus I guess,” Pittman confessed self-deprecating for recruiting the 6-2, 225 pounder at a position he hasn’t played since spring drills
“We recruited him to play slot,” Pittman said. “Then we felt like we needed some help at running back and moved him to running back. I think you can see it as well as everybody else how much more comfortable he is each week and hitting holes faster and learning how to make different moves and things. I’ve been really pleased with him. He’s exceptional.”
Not only exceptionally talented but an exceptionally quick study. “He’s never late to study tables,” Pittman said. “He’s never late to meetings. This guy is a wonderful representative of everything that he does. Academics talks about him. The training room talks about him. Anybody he comes in contact with is really impressed by him as a young man.”
Harsin is impressed with Sanders but notes it all begins with Jefferson.
“A really good young player,” Harsin said of Sanders. “But you have other issues at the positions that we have to cover, and be ready for. The quarterback pulls it down for him to run. So I mean, that’s just one of many things the defense has to prepare for with this offense and the players they have.”
Especially Arkansas junior receiver Treylon Burks, seven catches for 136 yards against Ole Miss and just named to ESPN’s Midseason All-American team.
Arkansas’ offense meets an always solid Auburn defense.
“Their D-linemen are playing like Auburn,” Pittman said. “Their D-linemen are playing very well. Their linebackers obviously run to the ball. (Safety) Smoke Monday is a special player.”
Arkansas’ defense played at a national level leading the Razorbacks’ 4-0 but was run over by No. 1 Georgia, 37-0 in Athens and blown away by Ole Miss’ 52 points and 611 yards total offense.
Asked if he needs more from his defensive line, Pittman replied, “Oh, absolutely.”
He did not stop there.
“We need to get more out of our safeties in run support,” Pittman said. “We need to get more out of our nickels off the edge. We need to get more out of our entire defense. But certainly it always starts up front on both sides of the ball. That’s how you win or lose games in this league.”