AUBURN — It could end up being a long, lonely Saturday for members of the Auburn secondary.
The Tigers defensive backs are facing perhaps their toughest challenge of the season in Arkansas wide out Cobi Hamilton whose size and speed present a daunting challenge, especially in 1-on-1 coverage.
Hamilton leads all active football players in career average per catch (18.2) and leads the SEC in receiving yards per game (118.2). He has 31 receptions for 591 yards — fifth most in the FBS — and four touchdowns. He followed an SEC single-game record performance for receiving yards against Rutgers (303 yards on 10 receptions with three touchdowns) with 11 receptions for 162 yards against Texas A&M.
"I think that we have several guys that have that have that mentality that they're going to accept the challenge and they know it's a big challenge," coach Gene Chizik said. "They're looking at an NFL receiver. It'll be a great competition out there for our guys whoever lines up across from him."
Cornerbacks Chris Davis, Jonathon Mincy, T'Sharvan Bell and Joshua Holsey may all get a shot at matching up with Hamilton, who leads the SEC with seven receptions of 25-plus yards. It is possible to shut down Hamilton as Alabama did, limiting him to two receptions for 14 yards, but the more realistic goal is to contain him.
The Tigers pass defense ranks sixth in the SEC, allowing 211 yards per game but Arkansas has a prolific pass offense because of quarterback Tyler Wilson and Hamilton.
Auburn had a hard time against Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins, who more than filled in for an injured Sammy Watkins in the season opener, pulling in 13 receptions for 119 yards with a touchdown.
Holsey said the Tigers will know where Hamilton is on every play but Wilson has more than just one weapon to choose from. Six different players have caught a touchdown for Arkansas (1-4, 0-2 SEC).
"Important downs we know exactly who (Wilson's) going to," Holsey said. "Know who we need to focus on a lot more than the other guy. It's important but at the same time you still have to worry about the other guys because they can be just as big a factor."
None of the regular starting members of the defensive backfield, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder or secondary coach Willie Martinez were available for comment this week.
Chizik said Auburn is willing to leave a corner on an island with the 6-foot-3 Razorbacks wide receiver.
"You have to always pick and choose your battles when you do that," he said. "You know they'll get the ball out of their hands quick and just throw it up to him on a fade if you're in press coverage or, send him deep whether you're in press or not and throw the ball up to him and let him try to out-jump you — and he's done that."