FAYETTEVILLE — Auburn Coach Bryan Harsin will bring his Tigers to Arkansas this week to face the Hogs on Saturday in a key SEC game for both squads.
Both teams enter the game with 4-2 overall records. Harsin has a lot of respect for the job Sam Pittman has done at Arkansas and said the Razorbacks have his player’s attention.
“So far as the team goes, we’re a couple of practices in,” Harsin said. “I think the guys have had a good couple days and Arkansas certainly has their attention. They’re very good. The more you watch them, the more you see why they’ve had success.
“Really just focused on the things we have to do to be better here at Auburn and things from the games we’ve played we need to correct and continue to keep working on, and this week is no different. And also preparing for our opponent, and then getting ready for another early morning game. But overall the attitude’s been good. The guys are excited about having a chance to travel and play against a really good football team. So we’re all looking forward to that.”
Harsin has seen the tape where players such as quarterback KJ Jefferson, running back Rocket Sanders and wide receiver Treylon Burks had a lot of success against Ole Miss last Saturday.
“Well, I think one thing just overall on the offense, they’re explosive,” Harsin said. “They play fast. I think that’s just key in what they do at that position. Is just another weapon that they have in the way that they operate. Huge run game out of the backfield, all those type of things. We’ve got to be prepared for that. A really good young player. But you have other issues at the positions that we have to cover, and be ready for. The quarterback pulls it down for him to run. So I mean, that’s just one of many things the defense has to prepare for with this offense and the players they have.
“But I’ve been impressed overall just watching them. And I think they play hard. I’ve said that. I think they play with really good tempo, and their guys are making plays. So that’s the real focus for right now, is being in a position where we can make plays, be in a position where we can make tackles and then make sure that everyone of those guys that has an opportunity to touch the ball, that we’re obviously ready for that and in position to try to defend it.”
Auburn has already had tough road games at Penn State and LSU. Harsin was asked if those two games helped prepare the team for what they will encounter Saturday?
“I think being on the road in general prepares you to go back on the road,” Harsin said. “The Penn State game was the first road game we had as a team. Not to mention the environment. That’s part of it. We’re going to play in those kind of environments every single week, whether we’re at home or away. Obviously away you deal with the crowd noise. You deal with the travel. So to me, it’s more about how we travel and how we have ourselves really leading up to that travel date prepared. How we handle ourselves when we’re in a different environment, different bed, those types of things.
“And then come game day, we’ve got to be able to handle the noise and the environment every time we go on the road. So I do think those two games, they’ve helped us in regards to we’ve had a chance to see how our guys respond on the road. One game we lost, one game we won. But overall, just for our team being able to handle the travel and all the things that come with it, that’s the big part. Once we start playing it’s not much different. It’s about doing your job and making sure you’re prepared to play.”
Harsin first really came familiar with Arkansas in 2001 when Houston Nutt was the head coach.
“You’ve got to go back to 2001 maybe,” Harsin said. “Boise State had played at Arkansas that year, so a little bit of history, too, with Houston Nutt. He came from Murray State, came to Boise State when I was a player. I happened to be, because I was a local player and everybody was gone, sitting in on the interviews with the head coaches and he was one of them. Another buddy of mine, who played there, we were the two who got to sit in on all the interviews with the coaches. We chose Houston Nutt, not because our opinion had anything to do with it. So when he left, obviously Arkansas, I followed that program as well because he’d been there as a coach, and Boise State was there.”
Harsin was head coach at Arkansas State in 2013. He recounted some experiences he had with the Razorbacks and the state while there.
“As far as Arkansas State, one, when (Bret) Bielema was there, we actually had where I had lived in Jonesboro, there was one of the donors for Arkansas was just two houses down but also was a guy that was trying to get involved at Arkansas State,” Harsin said. “We actually had gotten together one evening when Bielema had been down there maybe doing some things for donors and things like that. I got a chance to get with him. I’d been knowing him for a while. And obviously down there in Fayetteville with some recruiting and different things like that being in Arkansas. But that first year as a head coach you think you’re prepared for that you’re not. You know the Xs and Os part of it. There’s a plan, there’s a process, but there’s a lot more that comes with the head coach position that’s not always football-driven that you also have to be very aware of and want to do a very good job in those other areas. And then making sure everybody on your staff has the ability to come in there and do their very best work. You’re trying to hopefully create and environment like that. That in itself is a challenge with players, coaches, just different personnel that you have. I learned a lot that year. I sat in my office probably for 2-3 days when the last staff had left and the bowl game was over, looking to hire a staff and bringing people in and just thinking through a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t really think about unless you’re in that position.
“I learned a lot that year. I sat in my office probably for 2 or 3 days once the last staff had left, the bowl game was over, looking to hire a staff and bringing people in and just thinking through a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t really think about unless you’re in that position. That was a great year. Had a great AD in Terry Mohajir during that time. The staff we put together, there were some really good coaches on that staff. That was a good opportunity to be on a really good football team and to be in a place where you could develop players in an environment that allowed the staff and I to grow and develop ourselves as coaches. That was a great experience. My family and I enjoyed it. We enjoyed living there. Part of that was the excitement about the Auburn opportunity, as well, just coming back this direction. A lot of good things from that time at Arkansas State.”
The Razorbacks and Auburn will kickoff at 11 a.m. on Saturday and televised on CBS. It’s homecoming for the Hogs.