Bell was asked what he thought of Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett.
“We just think we’ve got a big test coming,” Bell said.
Big test indeed.
Seventh-ranked Auburn (6-0, 3-0 SEC), takes on 12th-ranked Arkansas (4-1, 1-1) Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and the Tigers’ success will largely depend on how they defend one of the nation’s best quarterbacks and an offense that ranks among the nation’s best.
Mallett’s numbers are staggering.
The 6-6, 238-pound junior has passed for 349.6 yards per game, which leads the SEC and is 10th nationally.
He has accounted for 344.8 yards per game in total offense, which leads the SEC and is No. 3 nationally.
“He makes plays against everybody,” said Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof. “He’s mobile enough to avoid the first rusher. He’s got a big-league arm and he has some big-league receivers who can make big plays at any point in the game and anywhere on the field. The discipline in the coverage and the discipline in the pursuit angles as far as tracking the football and the ability to put some pressure on him and disguise what we’re doing a little bit is going to be critical this week.”
Making things a bit more difficult for the Tigers is the fact that they have struggled against the pass this season.
Auburn ranks 10th in the 12-team SEC in pass defense, allowing 239.2 yards per game.
In last week’s 37-34 victory over Kentucky, Wildcats’ quarterback Mike Hartline took advantage of short throws underneath to complete 23 of 28 passes for 220 yards.
Roof said the Tigers will have to guard against that this week against Arkansas, particularly regarding giving up yardage after the catch.
“The yardage after catches is something that we’ve got to get eliminated, because Arkansas throws a lot of the same routes,” he said. “We’ve got to get a lot better this week and work to improve and take the next step. It’s a brand new week and a brand new start.”
Despite the problems against the pass, Auburn coach Gene Chizik said the Tigers are improving on defense.
“Let me tell you, in conference play I know there are some things that defensively we would obviously like to do better, but I think we’re getting better as a defense,” Chizik said.” I know there are some plays we could’ve made against Kentucky. But if you look at our conference play, I think our defense in conference play has stepped up to the plate against some really good offenses.”
But Chizik also knows this test will be different.
“This probably will be the biggest challenge we’ve faced up to date in terms of receivers and quarterbacks, and just defending their offense period,” Chizik said. “But certainly the quarterback and receivers are among the best in the country as awhole. It’ll be a great challenge for us again, and our guys will come out and fight next week. They’ve had their moments where they’ve played very well. Then we’ve had our moments where we needed to play better. But overall I’m very pleased with how we’re competing.”Auburn will definitely have to avoid giving up the big play, which has been a problem for the Tigers, not only this season, but last season.
“It’s very important,” Bell said of stopping the big plays. “Last year we went back and saw the games that we lost — LSU, Arkansas — we gave up a lot of big plays. And if we don’t give up those big plays, we don’t get beat the way we do and itbecomes a real close game. The big plays are something the coaches are going to emphasize a lot on and we’re very aware of. We’re just going to try to limit the big plays the best we can.”
Roof said giving up big plays was particularly glaring in last year’s game with Arkansas, a 44-23 victory for the Razorbacks.
“They hit a bunch of home runs against us last year,” he said. “We don’t have to go any farther than watch last year’s tape. So we’ve got our work cut out for us. Our guys took a good attitude. They understand that we’ve got a sense of urgency to improve. They understand we’ve got to do it this week and get it right now.”