AUBURN - It's a game of great importance. Auburn players and coaches know it. Arkansas players and coaches know it. The No. 7 Tigers (6-0, 3-0) and the No. 12 Razorbacks (4-1, 1-1) meet Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium at 2:30 p.m.
Second-year Auburn coach Gene Chizik said Wednesday that the importance of the game has not changed the Tigers' approach.
"We try to approach it as during the week as 'Let’s stay focused on things individually that make us better players,'" Chizik said. "I think our players really kind of get that. They understand that. The importance of every game as we move forward is huge. Win or lose, you have to come back and play again next week against a very good opponent. I think they get that.
"The way they have prepared over the first six weeks, I think that’s kind of been their mentality. We’ve really tried not to change anything in terms of how we prepare. They don’t need to be ready to play tonight. They don’t need to be ready to play Friday night. They have to be ready to play Saturday at 2:30. Everything in between that is just focusing on the preparation to do that."
NEARING A REDSHIRT: Freshman wide receiver Trovon Reed, who has still not recovered from a knee injury suffered in preseason camp, appears to be on his way to a redshirt season.
"It’s getting to the point now it’s going to be close to redshirt time," Chizik said. "We are going to continue to monitor and see as we go, but that’s what it’s looking like at this point."
NO CHANGE AT PUNTER: Freshman Steven Clark, who punted for the first time in last Saturday's 37-34 victory at Kentucky, will probably remain in front of senior Ryan Shoemaker on Saturday, Chizik said.
"Right now, it looks like it’s going to be Steven Clark," Chizik said, "but we are going to go through tomorrow’s practice and we’ll make a decision after that."
NOT JUST OFFENSE: Though quarterback Ryan Mallett and the Arkansas offense get most of the attention, Chizik said the defense is just as impressive.
"It’s not just their offense," Chizik said. "Defensively, they are really, really good. They are at the top of the league in a bunch of defensive categories. This is a great all-around football team, very well-coached, very solid in what they do."
GOING AFTER THE QB: After beating quarterbacks through the first five games, Auburn's defensive line couldn't get to Kentucky's Mike Hartline last Saturday. His three-step drops and quick throws made it almost impossible.
Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said Tuesday that the Tigers have to find a way to get to Mallett.
:"We have to be faster and better getting there<" Rocker said. "It’s going to be the same look this week. It’s going to be hard to get there, but we are preparing a way to get there. We have to be competitive all day. We can’t get frustrated. After that, let’s go have some fun and see what happens at the end of the game."
LUPER ON PLAY OF RUNNING BACKS: Here is what running backs coch Curtis Luper said about how Auburn's running backs at playing: "Not well enough. We have to play better, have to be more productive and hold on to the football. I’m looking for us to contribute and help this football team out more."
PRAISE FOR SAFETIES: Safeties coach Tommy Thigpen said senior senior Zac Ethirdge, junior Mike McNeil and senior Aairon Savage all played well in last Saturday's victory at Kentucky. Etheridge, he said, played particularly well.
"I was pleased with Zac Etheridge," Thigpen said. "I thought he was really physical, regardless of the two (late hit) calls. I thought he was really aggressive. It all started in practice. We challenged him to make plays in space and get everybody lined up. I thought he did a really good job in that game.Mike McNeil did a good job as well. Mike is coming along. Savage is solid every single week."
STAYING GROUNDED: Freshman tailback Mike Dyer fumbled at Kentucky for the second time this season. Both times, he left his feet trying to beat a defender.
"He needs to stay on the ground," running backs coach Curtis Luper said. "We worked on that this week and will continue to work. He just has to get it done in games. I’m happy that Mario (Fannin) is back and healthy. He’s been playing well, but he needs to play better. For us to win Saturday, we are going to have to show up as a running back position and contribute."