Back in July at SEC media days, Bret Bielema predicted that his Arkansas team would see Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall in the season opener despite Marshall’s run-in with the law just days prior to the event.
“I think knowing what I know as a head coach, Nick will be there,” Bielema said. “I think we want to play against the best, and I’m sure he’ll be there.”
Bielema was right. His counterpart Gus Malzahn announced Tuesday that Jeremy Johnson was the starter but that Marshall would definitely play.
What does that mean? Nobody knows for sure, but Malzahn made it clear that he and his staff have a plan for the quarterbacks in Week 1. Well, the Razorbacks have a plan too. They’re preparing the same regardless of who’s under center.
“We can only control what we can control,” defensive coordinator Robb Smith said. “We’re preparing for the Auburn Tigers. No matter who’s in there at quarterback, they’re going to have a great scheme. At the end of the day, it’s going to be about our discipline, our eye discipline, the effort in which we play, and that’s kind of the attitude that we’re taking.”
In last year’s game, Auburn won 35-17 and Marshall was nearly perfect through the air, going 7-of-8 for 118 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed nine times for 59 yards. Meanwhile, Johnson threw one pass and completed it for 15 yards.
Despite those splits, the Arkansas defense wants another crack at Marshall.
“I would rather see the starter (Marshall) because we would always want to play their best,” Hogs safety Alan Turner said. “I feel like he’s a good player, and he makes their offense go.”
Turner, along with All-SEC defensive end Trey Flowers, lead a defense that hopes to be much improved in 2014. The Razorbacks finished toward the bottom of the SEC in both total defense (410 yards per game) and scoring defense (31 points per game) last year, but Smith is hoping to turn that around in his first year as coordinator.
“The biggest thing for our defense has been the attitude and the effort in which we play,” Smith said. “That’s what we’ve got to hang our hat on in order to be successful. We’ve got to run to the football. We’ve got to play with great passion.
“The term that we use for that here at Arkansas is 'smart swarm.' That ties in everything that Coach B believes in and hangs his hat on. It’s playing through the whistle and being mentally and physically tough. That’s the No. 1 thing we ask our guys.”
Saturday’s game will be a prime opportunity for Arkansas, opening against the defending SEC champions and facing one of the top offenses in all of college football a season ago. Even the players say they’ve had a little extra spring in their step during fall camp.
“It does give us a little extra motivation to start the season off against the defending SEC champions,” Turner said. “Right off the bat, you get a quality opponent. I know a lot of people are doubting us, but if we can go in and play like I think we can, we can prove them wrong.”
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who is playing quarterback for Auburn. The goal for Arkansas remains the same.