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A spirit that is not afraid

No. 19 Auburn to host No. 4 Arkansas in an SEC thriller

<p>&nbsp;Match between Auburn and Florida Gators at the Auburn Soccer Complex.&nbsp;</p>

 Match between Auburn and Florida Gators at the Auburn Soccer Complex. 

The battle of the unbeaten Southeastern Conference West is on its way to the Plains.

Auburn is on pace to compete for the top spot in the SEC West for the first time since 2010, with a matchup against Arkansas, another top divisional team, looming large on Thursday.

It's also the Tigers' senior night where Alyssa Malonson, Rocio Sanders and Olivia Dedels will be recognized during a ceremony scheduled for 25 minutes before kickoff.

The No. 4 Razorbacks (3-0 in the SEC West) will make the trip down to the Plains, where they will face the No. 19 Tigers (3-0 in the SEC West). It’s the first matchup with both teams ranked in both polls in over four years.

This is an opportunity for us,” said Auburn head coach Karen Hoppa. “Arkansas has been the best team in the league the last few years and they certainly are right now. They are really dangerous. They play really direct and just attack you and attack you for 90 minutes.”

The Razorbacks were the All-Time SEC Champions in 2019, advancing to the SEC Tournament with an 8-1-1 regular season record before falling to South Carolina in the tournament finals.

Auburn has never led both SEC divisions with the best regular season record in its 28-year history in the conference. It's something that could change if the team wins its final three games of the season and the current SEC leader, Tennessee, loses two of its final three matches.

Arkansas has yet to lose at home. Meanwhile, it holds a 3-2 ratio when away, which it will be when the team busses down to the Plains on Thursday.

The Razorbacks are led by three hot-footed goal scorers in Anna Podojil, Parker Goins and Taylor Malham, who have nine, eight and seven goals scored respectively.

Auburn is coming off a 2-0 blanking of Florida, holding the Gators to just two shots taken in the full 90-minute match.

The Razorbacks are coming off a beat down of SEC East opponent Missouri, winning the match 6-1 to extend their winning streak to 12 games. The only matches dropped this year were the first two played of the season, both of which were away games at Duke and North Carolina in September.

Arkansas’ combination of league-leading offense and stellar goalkeeping and defense have propped it to a 45 to 10 goal scored vs goals given up differential.

Auburn’s ratio isn’t anything to be scoffed at, however. Holding a somewhat on-par ratio of 32 goals scored to 11 given up.

Key Players

Auburn’s goalie Maddie Prohaska now leads the SEC in shutouts with seven after holding Florida and Mississippi State to back-to-back scoreless games. The Tigers’ have held their past three opponents to zero goals scored, the longest such streak since 2014.

On the other side of the field, Arkansas has its own weapon in goal.

Hannah Warner has the second highest save percentage in the SEC, with 42 saved shots to only 10 goals given up. One slot above Prohaska, Warner also sits at the second top spot for goals against average, being led only by Tennessee’s Lindsey Romig.

Auburn’s scoring and assist leader, Anna Haddock, recorded her second multi-assist game of the season against the Gators and the fourth of her two-year career on the Plains.

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While she hasn’t been the goal-scorer she was in the first few weeks of the season, Haddock is playing her spacing well and making calculated runs into the box to assist her teammates’ and clean up wherever she may need to. 

The combination of Sydney Richards and Haddock advancing on goal as a pair is one that the Tigers will look to see a lot of against the staunch Razorback goalie if they wants to land a ball in the goal. As seen in the second Tigers’ second score against the Gators.

Arkansas’ Pedojil is an All-SEC leader on the offensive side of the ball. She leads the SEC in number of multiple-point games and is second in goals per game with nine goals scored in 11 games played. Her and Goins are also at the No. 4 and No. 5 spots for most assists per game, exemplifying just how effective the Arkansas’ offense can be when clicking on all cylinders.

The Razorbacks are arguably one of the hottest teams in the country, with only undefeated No. 1 Florida State holding longer win streak. Auburn lost to the Seminoles 2-1 back in September.

Goals to Victory

Auburn cannot get out to a slow start.

The Tigers’ only home loss of the season came from No. 1 FSU after giving up a goal in the first 30 seconds from kickoff.

South Carolina saw that weakness too, dropping three goals on the Tigers in the first 60 minutes before Auburn bounced back, scoring two goals in the second half but still falling on the road to a higher ranked opponent.

Auburn has yet to score a goal in the first half in four consecutive games. As many shots as the Tigers fire off, solid offensive looks aren’t the team’s specialty in the early start of matches. On the other side of its slow first-half starts, the second-half Tigers have scored five goals in the latter 45 of the last four games.

Holding Arkansas to a scoreless first half or dropping in a goal of its own would set Auburn up for more than a fightable second half.

Beyond the SEC, Arkansas’ name is plastered all over the top five stats in all of the NCAA.

The Razorbacks are No. 5 in the NCAA for scoring offense, No. 3 for assists per game, No. 4 in points per game and No. 5 in shots on goal per game.

The Razorbacks will need to come into Auburn and put on the same show that they’ve been putting on all year to ride out a ranked road victory. Defending second-chance shots are going to be the dealmaker or dealbreaker for Auburn, which prides itself on limiting secondary scoring opportunities. 

As many assists as Arkansas racks up any given week, that part of the game will for sure be a focal point for both teams on Thursday.

Series History

Auburn leads the all-time series record with 15 wins to 12 losses.

The last time the two teams played, Arkansas walked away with the win, sending the Tigers home from the 2020 SEC Tournament with a 4-3 loss in Orange Beach, Ala.

Auburn is riding its longest series losing streak to the Razorbacks in program history, dropping the last six consecutive matches dating back to the 2016 SEC Tournament.

A win on Thursday would break the historical losing record and award the Tigers with their second Top-15 ranked win of the season. A strong resume booster nearing the selection date for the NCAA Tournament.

What’s Next

Following the ranked home showdown on Thursday, the Tigers will spend the next two weeks on the road to close out regular season SEC play. Auburn will travel to face No. 13 Ole Miss (11-2-2, 3-1 in SEC West) on Sunday at 2 p.m. CST and then ride back to Alabama to face off against its rival in Tuscaloosa on the Oct. 28. The SEC Tournament waits in limbo just around the corner with the first match being held on October 31st.

Larry Robinson | Photo Editor

Larry is a senior studying journalism with a minor in sociology. He is from Enterprise, Alabama and is in his third year with The Auburn Plainsman. 

Twitter: @ReportingLarry

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