FAYETTEVILLE — Quarterback Kiehl Frazier hasn’t had an easy transition to the starting job at Auburn.
The sophomore is averaging just 136.5 passing yards a game with 2 touchdowns with 7 interceptions. Auburn’s offense is last in the SEC and, as expected, there’s been plenty of grumbling on The Plains about whether Frazier should remain in the starting spot as Auburn prepares to play Arkansas.
“I would say it’s stressful, but it’s the job,” Frazier said Tuesday. “Day-in and day-out you have to come in ready to work. There’s always going to be the No. 2 and No. 3 guys who want to be the starter. So you’ve got to work hard and play for your team.”
There’s good news for Frazier, though. Next up for Auburn (1-3, 0-2 in Southeastern Conference) is an Arkansas (1-4, 0-2) defense that has been kind to quarterbacks.
The group of ULM’s Kolton Browning, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, Rutgers’ Gary Nova and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel have combined to complete 68.6 percent of their passes for 1,451 yards against the Razorbacks. They’ve thrown for 12 touchdowns with just one interception. And they’ve piled up all kinds of honors and awards.
Browning was named the Walter Camp National Player of the Week for his performance on Sept. 8. Nova received the Big East’s Offensive Player of the Week award, while being named one of eight “Stars of the Week” by the Manning Award. Manziel was named the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Week and one of three Freshmen of the Week after setting a conference record for total offense.
Frazier wouldn’t mind joining the list after his early-season struggles, but knows there’s no sure thing. The only thing he could guarantee? Auburn would have opportunities to make plays against Arkansas and must take advantage of them.
“Arkansas has a lot of talent on defense,” Frazier said. “They struggled last week against Texas A&M, but they still have a lot of athletes on the field and if they put it together they can be a good defense. So we’re going to have to make plays.”
It’s something Frazier said Auburn has struggled to do in four games.
The Tigers are in the SEC in scoring (17.5 points), total offense (297.8 yards) and passing offense (144.8 yards). Frazier’s struggles have played a part in the problems, but Auburn coach Gene Chizik said growing pains are expected for young quarterbacks in the SEC and is seeing signs of improvement.
“He’s got a lot of work to do,” Chizik said. “He’s got a lot of room for growth. There are some things I think that he’s looked back on in this last week and gotten a chance to really see and learn. It will be interesting to see, after a week of really analyzing and going over assessing himself, how much progress he’s made.”
Frazier tried to make the most of his time during Auburn’s off week, taking a closer look at his performance to start the season. He and first-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler also compared his footwork and fundamentals to that of quarterbacks like Chad Henne and Tom Brady. Loeffler worked with both while at Michigan.
The biggest thing Frazier noticed was the quickness of their drops after getting the snap from under center. Frazier described his drops as a “little slow” and “timid.”
“That’s something if I just speed on my drop it will help a lot,” Frazier said.
Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes said Auburn’s offense is centered on its running backs, but believes the Tigers will try to make plays through the air Saturday. Haynes said “I would too” because of Arkansas’ defensive struggles.
The Razorbacks are, after all, ranked 117th in the nation in pass defense (310.4 yards). Arkansas has allowed 895 passing yards the past two weeks.
“I know he’s had some turnovers and some things, of course, that they don’t like,” Haynes said of Frazier. “But I think he’s settling in a little bit more with the offense of what they want him to do.”
Said linebacker Alonzo Highsmith: “We can’t let him get going.”
Frazier wants his early-season struggles will come to an end Saturday, though.
He said Auburn has hurt itself with little things so far, pointing out an overthrown pass to a running back on a wheel route against LSU. The goal against Arkansas is to clean up those mistakes and turn in a confidence-building performance.
“Coach Loeffler, every game, has put us in position to make plays,” Frazier said. “Week-in and week-out he’s done that. So we look for him to do that again. He’ll give us opportunities. When they present themselves we have to go out and make them.”