FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas guard Denver Kirkland remembered turning in an "average" performance in last season’s loss to Auburn.

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas guard Denver Kirkland remembered turning in an "average" performance in last season’s loss to Auburn.


The Arkansas coaching staff remembered it, too.


So as the Razorbacks prepared for last week’s season opener, they found ways to poke, prod and challenge Kirkland to make sure it didn’t happen again.


"Our coaches kept bragging about them a lot," Kirkland said. "I just got tired of it."


Kirkland’s performance proved it. Arkansas may have dropped its 10th-straight in the 45-21 loss to the Tigers, but the sophomore enjoyed his best performance since stepping into the starting lineup as a true freshman last season.


The 6-foot-5, 330-pound Kirkland held strong at right guard while playing all 60 snaps. He graded out at 91 percent, was an anchor on Arkansas’ offensive front and earned plenty of praise from coaches for his efforts.


"That is the best," Pittman said of Kirkland’s performance. "As good a lineman play as we’ve had in a single game since I’ve been here, last year and this year. As good as we have had one particular guy play."


Arkansas’ goal now is making sure the rest of the group can match it.


The Razorbacks (0-1) will try to strengthen their performance on the offensive front when they play Nicholls State (0-1) on Saturday at 3 p.m. Arkansas will be an overwhelming favorite to dominate the Football Championship Subdivision program in the trenches, but the Razorbacks view it as an opportunity to improve a group that started strong at Auburn before struggling in the second half.


"We have to be physical in the second half, and maybe that’s keeping fresher plays," Pittman said. "I’m looking into anything where we can have two halves just like we had the first one because the first one was pretty incredible."


Arkansas coach Bret Bielema believes fatigue and players hitting their threshold had a hand in those struggles. While he pointed to positions across the Arkansas roster, the offensive line was front and center in his assessment.


The Hogs played seven offensive linemen at Auburn. Kirkland, right tackle Brey Cook, center Mitch Smothers, left guard Luke Charpentier and left tackle Dan Skipper started. Junior college transfer Sebastian Tretola also played 27 of the 60 snaps at left guard, while Cameron Jefferson earned a few repetitions at right tackle.


Bielema mentioned Cook and Smothers as two players who could use a breather. So expect Arkansas to turn to reserves like center Frank Ragnow much more Saturday.


"What we’re trying to tell our guys is look at it as a way we’re trying to maximize you," Bielema said during Wednesday’s SEC Teleconference. "We want you to be the best you every play and sometimes that means you’ve got to play less snaps. I think there’s a lot of good that can come out of it. The proof will be in the pudding on Saturday, and then obviously each kid handles it a little bit different."


Arkansas entered Saturday’s game with plans to play Ragnow at center, but Pittman said the wet conditions at Auburn made him reconsider. So Smothers played the entire game. Bielema said it proved to be more than Smothers could handle and Pittman said it wouldn’t happen Saturday at any offensive line position.


"As long as we have guys that we think we can win the game with, we’d like to keep fresh guys," Pittman said. "At this point, we have six. We think we can get Frank ready to be that seventh guy, and we’ll continue to try and find the eighth and ninth guy. But as long as we can win the game, we’ll try to keep fresh guys in there."


Of course, there was no mention of Kirkland after his effort in playing every snap at Auburn. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said it was impressive, considering it was against "some of the better D-tackles you’ll see in college football."


The lineman — whose backup on the depth chart is junior Austin Beck — struggled with his stamina last season after arriving on campus at 360 pounds. But Kirkland said he benefitted from an offseason in strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert’s program and it was evident in camp.


He made an impression in the season opener as well.


"I think that helped me a lot," Kirkland said of his offseason work. "I think it helped me with more leverage and just being the best player I can be."