Arkansas Coach John L. Smith thinks Auburn might have had to play quarterback Kiehl Frazier a little too early, and the Razorbacks know Frazier has had some problems with turnovers.
Kiehl Frazier has thrown seven interceptions this season.
But Smith said he’s seen some improvement from the Tigers’ sophomore from Shiloh Christian.
“He’s like all younger guys in the league. If you play too darn early, it’s maybe not a good thing,” Smith said Wednesday during the SEC coaches’ teleconference. “But as you continue to play, the great thing about young and playing early is you’re going to get better all the time. That’s what he has done and will do so. I see them sticking with this young man.”
Frazier, who chose Auburn over Arkansas and about 20 others in 2011, saw some action last season when the Razorbacks beat Auburn 38-14 in Fayetteville. He’ll get another shot at the Hogs on Saturday when the teams play in Auburn, Ala.
But so far this season, Frazier has had some serious growing pains, throwing seven interceptions vs. two touchdowns. This comes after he played in all 13 games last season and had some nice moments as the Wildcat QB, rushing for 327 yards and three touchdowns.
In the first four games this season as the starter, he has 31 carries for 16 net yards. He’s also completed 47 of 89 passes for 546 yards.
Smith was asked how Frazier compared to Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Kolton Browning and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, both of whom had big games this year to beat the Hogs.
“I don’t know if anybody compares to Manziel, and Browning was awful special as well,” Smith said.
He added that Frazier “can move, as we all know -- he was their option guy, and then you remember what he did in high school” but said Auburn doesn’t look like it wants to do as much running with him this year.
Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes says Auburn might be trying to find itself offensively with a new coordinator.
“We would be the same with Tyler (Wilson),” Smith said. “You don’t want to put him in harm’s way more than you really need to. But he has the ability to move and get out of trouble and scramble.”
In his weekly press conference after Wednesday’s practice, Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes described Frazier as “very good” and “solid for what they want to do.”
“Again, I know he’s had some turnovers, some things that of course that they don’t like,” Haynes said. “I think he’s settling in a little bit more with the offense of what they want him to do. But very good.”
But Haynes said the “heart” of Auburn’s offense is the running backs, even though “the stats don’t show it right now.”
“And again, any time a team can run the football on you, they can be very effective. They’re strong, they’re fast. They’re super-fast. Plus they’ve got a couple guys out on the edge that can go, too.”
What else has Haynes seen of the Tigers’ offense so far this season?
“I think they’re trying to find themselves a little with the style of offense that they want to run,” he said. “But in the first ballgame, you kind of saw a little bit of power with Coach (Scott) Loeffler, the new offensive coordinator. Then you saw a little bit of their old offense with the Spread and the zone-read type stuff, also. They’re kind of mixing it together so you’ve got to make sure that you prepare for all of it."
Although Arkansas’ defense has struggled and ranks 116th nationally, the Hogs haven’t been that bad against the run, ranking 69th in the nation (160.8 yards per game). Some of that could be because the pass defense is so terrible (117th nationally, 349.4 ypg). Why run when you can throw all day?
Haynes said he likes the matchup with Auburn’s offense, “but again, what do you think they’re going to do?” he said.
“They’re going to come in here and throw the ball around. I would too. So I think we’ve got to prepare for the run. That’s one thing that we will always sit there and do. But we know that they’re going to challenge us deep. They’re going to try to challenge us throwing the football, so we’ve got to be prepared for that, too.”
Haynes said starting safety Eric Bennett practiced again Wednesday. Bennett was injured and did not play last week vs. Texas A&M. Tight end Chris Gragg (deep bruise) still has not practiced this week after missing the last three quarters of the Rutgers game and all of the A&M game. Cornerback Tevin Mitchel (gall bladder) is still day-to-day, and he and cornerback Kaelon Kelleybrew (concussion) have still not been cleared by doctors. … Haynes likes what he’s seen this week out of his young cornerbacks. “Those guys really, to be honest with you, they’ve had a great week of practice,” he said. “I was real pleased with how they prepared. They’re fighters, so they were very, very aggressive in practice. So that was good to see.” … Smith said Keante Minor returned punts last week vs. A&M because of the rain. The Hogs felt better about his hands and his experience than true freshman Nathan Holmes. But Smith said expect to see both players returning punts vs. Auburn.