War Eagle

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn calls for his offense to head to the sideline during a home contest against Ole Miss this season.

Thomas Graning | Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE — Gus Malzahn and Bret Bielema entered the Southeastern Conference within a week of each other when they were hired at Auburn and Arkansas, respectively, following the 2012 season.

Both appear as though they’re fighting to stay in the league as they begin a second half that feels like it could determine how much longer their coaching tenures last.

The No. 21 Tigers (5-2, 3-1) visit the Razorbacks (2-4, 0-3) on Saturday night, a week after blowing a 20-0 lead in a 27-23 loss to No. 24 LSU .

Since that loss, Auburn fans have questioned whether Malzahn or first-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey are calling plays and wondered aloud — again — if the coach who has been a part of two national championship games at the school is long for the Plains.

“The only thing I’m worried about is beating Arkansas and coming back and getting healed up for a week and try to finish this thing with the goals we started with,” Malzahn said.

Malzahn is hardly alone when it comes to facing criticism at home. Just ask Bielema, who has led Arkansas to six losses in its last eight games and hasn’t defeated a Power Five conference school since downing Mississippi State last November.

The former Wisconsin coach fell to 27-30 with last week’s 41-9 loss to No. 1 Alabama, 10-25 in the SEC — and he enters this week facing the likelihood of a second straight week with starting quarterback Austin Allen on the bench with an injury.

The Razorbacks are also facing an Auburn team that defeated them 56-3 a year ago, a humiliating defeat Bielema said they haven’t forgotten.

“I think just the way it ended a year ago, from the time they walked off the field last year to where they are, they’ve made themselves aware of,” Bielema said.

Here are some things to know about the Auburn-Arkansas game:


 

ALLEN’S AVAILABILITY

Bielema hasn’t ruled out the chance of Allen playing on Saturday. The senior has been “touch and go” while taking limited part in practice this week, and freshman Cole Kelley will once again start under center if Allen is unable to play. 

Kelley completed 23 of 42 passes for 200 yards in the loss to Alabama last week.


 

STOPPING KERRYON

Auburn tailback Kerryon Johnson has been one of the SEC’s biggest breakout stars this season. Keeping him out of the end zone could be key for Arkansas. 


NO DAVIS

Malzahn announced this week that wide receiver Kyle Davis has been dismissed from the team for breaking team rules. Davis, who has seven catches for 210 yards receiving this season, didn’t travel to last weekend’s LSU game and also was suspended from the season opener against Georgia Southern. 


GIBSON’S STATUS

Bielema said offensive lineman Johnny Gibson has been limited this week while recovering from a knee injury and is unsure if he’ll play. Gibson has seen action at multiple spots on the line this season, including at left tackle last week, and his loss would be a blow for a woeful Arkansas offensive line.


WOUNDED AUBURN

A number of players are dealing with injuries, and Malzahn has already ruled out center Casey Dunn with an undisclosed injury. Malzahn expects defensive end Marlon Davidson and other defenders to play. Guard Mike Horton, who missed the LSU game with an ankle injury, could play, too. The coach said tailback Kamryn Pettway, who has seen limited action in the past four games, is “close to 100 percent” healthy after battling  a foot injury.

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