Malzahn, Bielema under pressure ahead of Auburn-Arkansas
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — 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 of a season 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 to his throwing shoulder.
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 (the loss),” Bielema said.
Some other things to watch as Malzahn and Bielema continue to battle for their jobs
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.
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. Johnson leads the nation with 13 touchdowns, already Auburn’s eighth-highest total.
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. Davis had 12 catches for 248 yards as a freshman last season.
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 an Arkansas line that’s tied for 112th in the country while allowing an average of three quarterback sacks per game.
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 several 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 plantar fasciitis.
AP Sports Writer John Zenor contributed to this report.
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