Razorbacks' offense to be tested at Auburn

Thursday, October 5th 2006, 8:55 am
By: News On 6

LITTLE ROCK (AP) _ Arkansas is about to travel to Auburn for the toughest road game on its schedule.

Mitch Mustain seems to be looking forward to it.

``The pressure's on them,'' the Razorbacks' quarterback said. ``We're going to be able to come in and have fun with it and really kind of get a chance to work with what we've been wanting to do and show what we've wanted to do up to this point. Hopefully, we can do that.''

Arkansas' offense has been doing just enough to win lately _ with some help from opposing kickers, of course. Now, after a bye week, the Razorbacks are hoping for more improvement against the No. 2 Tigers on Saturday.

Arkansas has moved the ball easily at times this year. All nine of the Razorbacks' touchdown drives have been at least 50 yards _ and six have been at least 80.

But Arkansas hasn't been consistent enough. The Razorbacks are averaging just under 20 points a game.

``We'll hit flashes in a game, points in a game where we do really well. We'll have drives where we look like we can do it for a long time,'' Mustain said. ``I think basically just experience _ from top to bottom, all the players. I think we just need to get some of this under our belt and keep working with it.''

Mustain, trying to become the first freshman quarterback to win his first four starts at Arkansas, has been under the microscope. He showed good poise in wins over Utah State and Vanderbilt, but he threw three interceptions after halftime against Alabama. The Razorbacks prevailed 24-23 in double overtime after the Crimson Tide missed some late kicks.

Mustain said he felt fatigue in his shoulder in that game, but he says it feels better now. Coach Houston Nutt hopes Mustain will bounce back.

``I think he has a short memory, which is really important in this league,'' Nutt said. ``To forget about the last play, especially if it was a bad one.''

Arkansas (3-1) is off to its first 2-0 start in Southeastern Conference play since 1998 and can move into first place in the SEC West with a win over Auburn (5-0, 3-0 SEC). The Razorbacks will be up against a Tigers' defense that is allowing only 8.2 points per game _ the third-best mark in the country.

Arkansas' offense is a little more open this year under new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, but the Razorbacks haven't used much of his hurry-up, no-huddle offense. It remains to be seen whether that will change anytime soon.

Nutt said the bye week helped his team become sharper on offense.

``Any time you have an extra week of preparation, that always helps,'' Nutt said. ``You're able to add a few more things and polish it up in practice.''

One reason Arkansas' scoring drives have been so long is that the Razorbacks' defense has only forced one turnover. The offense has overcome poor field position on occasion, and the passing game is producing more big plays than last year. But Arkansas has committed too many turnovers and ranks last in the SEC in time of possession.

``Those big plays are encouraging, but they don't do us a whole lot of good if we don't move the ball consistently, and that's something we've struggled with,'' Mustain said. ``I think we're doing all right. I think we're kind of figuring out what we can do. Now it's just a matter of executing that and getting the ball moving, controlling it and scoring some points.

``I think we can definitely do a lot better than what we are, and I think we're heading that way.''

Arkansas will have one initial task against Auburn _ adjusting to the crowd noise. The Razorbacks have played on the road once this season, and that was at Vanderbilt, hardly a hostile environment.

But Mustain says Arkansas should be looking forward to this trip. After all, what better time for the offense to get untracked than on the road against one of the nation's top teams?

``It's almost motivation that you don't have when you're at home. Your back's in a sense against the wall,'' Mustain said. ``They're expected to win. People are expecting us to get beat by them. We need to just come out and have fun with it _ and if anything, just enjoy the crowd.''