Top teams tangle Saturday on ESPN

No. 15 Auburn’s embattled defense scored a major triumph by shutting down South Carolina tailback Marcus Lattimore.

Forgive the Tigers if they’re not celebrating. No. 10 Arkansas and the Southeastern Conference’s No. 1 offense and most prolific passing game are next in line Saturday after an eye-catching performance of their own.

If Auburn defenders really want to prove their defense is not as bad as it has been made out to be, here’s another chance.

Most sports books monitored by the SportsOptions odds product have installed Arkansas as a 10-point home favorite, with the total set at 63 1/2.

“We’ve got to do it again. That’s exactly how I feel,” Auburn defensive end LaDarius Owens said Tuesday. “People are waiting in the back just trying to say, `I told you so.’ What we did last week, yeah, it’s good and great. But if we don’t do it this week, they’ll be like, `I knew it was a fluke.”‘

Fluke, gameplan or just rising to the occasion, the impressive performance hardly wiped out all the struggles in the first four games for the Tigers (4-1, 2-0 SEC).

The good news: The front line was more formidable than it had been, Auburn finally had success in third-down stops and forced four turnovers and the powerful Lattimore managed a modest 66 yards.

The bad: They’re still at the bottom of the league in scoring, total and rush defense. More significant this week, they’re also last in pass defense, giving up 232.8 yards a game through the air.

Now, Auburn must face quarterback Tyler Wilson on the heels of his school-record 510 yards passing against Texas A&M. And Jarius Wright, who had 13 catches for 281 yards.

No wonder the Tigers aren’t celebrating their biggest success of the season. The switch-up requires a significant change in gears but coach Gene Chizik insists the primary goal remains the same

“It’s pretty different in some ways, but in a lot of ways it’s very similar, too,” Chizik said. “We’ve got to go into every game knowing that we have to stop the run first. But when have a team throwing for 350 yards a game, that gives you a little different train of thought. That’s where their production has been so over the top compared to everybody else.”

The Tigers secondary didn’t fare too well the last time it faced a prolific quarterback. Clemson’s Tajh Boyd passed for 386 yards and four touchdowns to help deal Auburn its only loss.

Starting cornerback Chris Davis has missed the past two games with an ankle injury, and Chizik said he’s not sure if he’ll be able to return Saturday.

Redshirt freshman Jonathan Mincy started in his place against South Carolina and recovered a fumble. The challenge changes dramatically now. Wright is leading the SEC in receiving, but Cobi Hamilton and Joe Adams also are threats. That doesn’t even count Greg Childs, who caught nine passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s Auburn game.

Chizik said they are “probably one of the best receiving corps in the country,” but are especially dangerous in turning short passes into long gains.

“What they are all good at and you can tell that there is definitely a conscious coaching effort for them to make yards after the catch,” Chizik said. “It’s going to be huge for us to be able to tackle these guys in space and limit those yards after catch, because that’s exactly where they will hurt you.”

He said the Razorbacks’ scheme under coach Bobby Petrino isn’t the only thing that separates them from other teams. “The difference is that they execute it as well as anybody in the country executes an offense,” Chizik said.

Petrino ran Auburn’s offense in 2002 while Chizik was in charge of the defense. He said the Tigers have improved significantly since giving up 624 yards to Clemson.

“They’re younger than they’ve been, so they keep getting better as they go on,” Petrino said. “Big defensive front and active, fast linebackers. That’s kind of what they’ve always been.”

Arkansas’ running game has a new look. Dennis Johnson led the way with 54 yards against the Aggies not leading rusher Ronnie Wingo Jr. Broderick Green scored two touchdowns, including the go-ahead 3-yarder, after an earlier-than-expected return from a knee injury.

Auburn’s young defensive line is coming off its best game and will need to keep the heat on Wilson to take some pressure off the secondary.

“Arkansas still is going to try to establish a running game,” defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker said. “The deal is to stop it and make them one-dimensional, which they showed you that they don’t mind being.”

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