FAYETTEVILLE – Auburn dug a 17-0 first-quarter hole from which the Arkansas Razorbacks fell into an eventual 51-10 SEC West abyss before 54,619 Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Other than an Arkansas dominated but scoreless second quarter, Coach Gus Malzahn’s nationally No. 11 Tigers mostly had their way with the Hogs while improving to 6-1 overall, 3-1 in the SEC.
The Hogs wallow, 2-5, 0-4 in the SEC. They are 0-12 in the SEC under second-year Coach Chad Morris and have lost 15 consecutive SEC games dating back to the last three SEC games in 2017 under former Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema.
Morris knew the Hogs would be in for a rough ride against Auburn, on paper bigger, faster and just plain better than Arkansas. “First of all, I want to definitely give credit to Coach Malzahn and Auburn,” Morris said. “Very good football team. They’re very physical. We knew that coming in.”
Morris knew the Hogs would need to play virtually mistake free to stand a chance. That chance lasted three plays.On third and six from the Arkansas 29 after Auburn kicked off through the end zone, Auburn defensive end stripped the ball while sacking Arkansas quarterback Ben Hicks and recovered the fumble for Auburn at the Arkansas 22.Two passes from Auburn quarterback Bo Nix to Anthony Schwartz and Nix’s 4-yard touchdown run later the Tigers were up 7-0 at 12:38.
An Arkansas three and out and a punt followed by Auburn running back Kam Martin’s 52-yard run to the Arkansas 11 setting up Shaun Shivers’ 6-yard touchdown run and the Razorbacks reeled down an already irrevocable, 14-0. “Took two, big hay-makers right out of the gate,” Morris lamented postgame. “We talk all the time about you can’t give a great football team any help. We did that. I will say I thought once we stabilized and we went on a span there of about 32 or 33 minutes to where our defense was exceptional and we gave up three points.”
Hicks, quarterbacking an entire game for the first time since the Aug. 31 season-opener after either alternating with or being supplanted by fellow graduate transfer quarterback Nick Starkel, of course lamented Saturday’s struggling start. “Three (Davidson’s number) just made a really good play,” Hicks said. “He reached over with his long ams and knocked it out of my hand. So obviously not how I wanted to start but we try and come back out and find a way to sustain a drive and obviously we didn’t do that early on.”
But they would finally making their first down with 43 seconds left in the first quarter after the defense on Joe Foucha’s safety blitz denied Auburn a fourth and one on one possession and halted a 55-yard first-quarter drive at the Arkansas 26 compelling Malzahn to settle on Anders Carlson’s 44-yard field goal for the 17-0 lead.
Because Carlson missed his next field goal try, a 44-yarder wide right awry, the Hogs survived a failed trick play. Arkansas punter Sam Loy on fourth and three from the Auburn 46 tried a 2-handed push pass for fleet special-teamer De’Vion Warren that was picked off by Auburn linebacker Chandler Wooten. “We weren’t moving the chains and maybe needed something to get something going,” Morris said. “They had a full-on rush and we wanted to let the rush come and just a touch pass over the top just a little, like a basketball shot with him (Warren) running underneath it Not the result we were looking for.” But no harm thanks to the defense and Carlson’s miss and no Auburn second-quarter threat thereafter.
“We got hit in the mouth early,” Arkansas junior safety Kamren Curl said. “But we responded and we started playing our game.” Fueled by an incredible Trey Knox 19-yard catch of a Hicks pass drove from its 37 with 4:40 left in the half to the Auburn 26 but closed the half down down 17-0. Connor Limpert, the usually reliable place-kicker missed from 44 on the half’s last play.
“I’d like to have seen the momentum right before half, been able to capitalize on some opportunities and we could have come away with some points,” Morris said. “But we challenged our guys at halftime that we needed a stop (Auburn received the second half kickoff) and to get the ball back to the offense and see what we could do, and we did that.
Arkansas forced a three and out, and was punted back to its 13 at 13:23. Aided by two Auburn penalties, the Hogs drove to the Auburn 10 and finally scored three on Limpert’s 28-yard field goal at 5:53.Auburn responded. After three Auburn runs by backup running back D.J. Williams advanced the Tigers from their 28 to their 46, Nix completed a 5-yard pass then went deep for a 48-yard touchdown to receiver Seth Williams. Hicks, 19 of 39 for 182 yards, threw his lone interception, nabbed by cornerback Javaris Davis at the Auburn 44. Two 28-yard gains by receiver Anthony Schwartz, one running on a reverse and the other on Nix’s 28-yard touchdown pass, had the Tigers up 31-3.
“Wish we could have gotten the ball in the end zone,” Morris said of settling for the field goal. “But we were at least able to come away with some points. But when that happened, we had some momentum and we gave two big plays that we couldn’t get a stop and we were able to get two big play scores on us. The Hogs didn’t quit. Arkansas linebacker Scoota Harris dislodged the ball from Nix. Fellow Arkansas linebacker Bumper Pool couldn’t recover it but did deflect it to keep it from rolling out of bounds so defensive tackle McTelvin “Sosa” Agim of Hope could recover it at the Auburn 45. Arkansas senior tight end Cheyenne “C.J”: O’Grady, 7 catches for 72 yards, earlier running a trick play that worked on a fourth and short going in motion behind center to take the snap with Hicks in shot gun and make three for a first down, made a tackle dodging 45-yard touchdown catch of a Hicks pass capped by re-catching it after it was batted on attempted strip buy Auburn’s Big Kat Bryant. O’Grady’s catch cut the score to 31-10 and was Arkansas’ last hurrah.
Auburn’s three touchdowns 20-0 fourth quarter, the Tigers missed one PAT featured Nix throwing another TD pass to Seth Williams, this one for 15, backup Auburn quarterback Joey Gatewood throwing a 17-yard TD to receiver Jay Jay Wilson, and running back Harold Joiner running a 32-yard touchdown
The Tigers took a knee three times upon recovering another Arkansas fumble at the Arkansas 16 with 1:41 left. Though Nix, 12 of 17 for 176 yards, threw three touchdown passes and Gatewood one, it was running Auburn by ground more than by air hurting the Hogs. Of the Tigers; 491 yards total offense, 299 came on the ground led by Kam Martin’s 10 carries for 84 yards.“Our guys came out ready to play right off the bat,” Malzahn said. “Our defense played outstanding. Offensively we got off to a good start, but kind of fizzled in the second quarter. Give them (Arkansas) credit. In the second half we were able to run the football. We hit a couple of explosive pass plays that kind of opened everything up.
With Auburn’s defensive front so big to run against inside and so fast try to outrun on the perimeter, the Razorbacks netted but 52 yards rushing on 28 carries led by running back Rakeem Boyd’s 39 hard-earned yards on 39 carries.
“It was just tough sledding inside the tackles,” Hicks said. “We tried to get out on the perimeter early and they used their speed to make some plays. We were trying to throw some RPOs (run-pass options) to try to keep them off balance but it was obviously difficult. It was difficult. Like I said, it was tough sledding today and we were just trying to find ways to continue to run the ball inside the tackles and throw some RPOs off of it to try to keep them off balance. But it was obviously difficult to play. They are a good defense and they played like it today.”
Boyd did catch what would have been a big-gain pass from Hicks but it was voided by a penalty.Arkansas’ prospects to break its 15-game SEC losing streak looks bleak next week.Nationally No. 1 Alabama awaits at 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN in Tuscaloosa, Ala.Arkansas starting senior left tackle Colton Jackson of Conway and starting senior left guard Austin Capps of Star City were too injured from Saturday’s first half to play in Saturday’s second half, Morris confirmed.