AUBURN, Ala. – Arkansas coach John L. Smith is perfectly aware of Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who once was the USA Today High School Player of the Year for Shiloh Christian in Springdale, Ark., just outside Fayetteville.
Frazier has struggled in his first year as a sophomore starter – the Tigers (1-3, 0-2 SEC) has the worst total and passing offenses in the SEC – and has accordingly been under intense scrutiny.
“He’s like all younger guys in the league – if you play too darn early, it’s maybe not a good thing,” Smith said on Wednesday’s SEC coaches conference call. “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 had success as a Wildcat quarterback his freshman year, a role now filled by Auburn freshman Jonathan Wallace. Smith doesn’t expect Auburn to deter from its current system, when asked for comparisons to shifty QBs Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and Kolton Browning of Louisiana-Monroe who each beat Arkansas (1-4, 0-2) earlier this year.
“I don’t know if anybody compares to Manziel, and Browning was awful special as well,” Smith said. “He can move, as we all know – he was their option guy, and then you remember what he did in high school. He’s capable of doing that – do they necessarily want to that with him? It doesn’t look like as much.
“We would be the same (with Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson) – 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.”
Smith praised Tigers defensive end Corey Lemonier, calling him “as good a football player as there is in the league. You’ve got to get him blocked more so than anything.”
This Saturday’s matchup at Jordan-Hare Stadium pits two of the SEC’s bottom defenses against each other, but Smith doesn’t see it that way, at least on Auburn’s side of the field.
“Stats are stats, but you watch the video and you say, this is a good defensive unit,” Smith said. “I like the front, they’re all physical, they all can run around. Those ends are as good as there is in the league. We’re going to have play great on the offensive side of the ball to match up.”
Smith said practice “was much better than I expected” on Tuesday, perhaps his team’s best Tuesday session of the year.
“Everybody gets down with a loss. That’s part of life. Doggone it, our football team came out with high energy yesterday,” Smith said. “Fighting through it, playing good enough to win, is what we have to do. We’ve got to go out and make sure we don’t make mistakes and get a win under our belt.”
Smith doesn’t believe he’s lost the Razorbacks’ desire.
“I don’t think our attitude is bad. These guys have held together and support each other and believe in what’s going on,” Smith said. “It’s just a matter of going out on the field and making sure that happens on the weekend. Take what we do in practice and take it to the game.”
On the injury front, tight end Chris Gragg (leg) and cornerback Tevin Mitchel (concussion) have not been cleared to return to action.