Arkansas held Auburn's rushing attack, which included Wildcat QB Jonathan Wallace (12), to 40 yards and a 1.2 yards-per-carry average.
No turnover margin of error
Arkansas entered Saturday’s game with the worst turnover margin in the nation, but you sure couldn’t tell it in the 24-7 upset win over Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The Hogs’ defense had two takeaways this season going into the game – and none since Week 2. But Auburn turned it over five times against the UA – three interceptions and two fumbles – and that played a huge role in the Razorbacks (2-4, 1-2 SEC) snapping a four-game losing streak.
“Finally. Finally got some turnovers,” Arkansas Coach John L. Smith said. “That’s been key. That’s like what we talked about all the previous games. That’s the difference. And a couple great jobs, couple of interceptions in the end zone, couple of fumbles. We still don’t need to put the ball on the ground late, but I’m not going to talk about anything negative.”
The Razorbacks turned their takeaways into just three points, but for a defense that came in allowing 40.6 points a game, there’s no doubt the turnover differential was one of the differences in the game.
Sophomore safety Alan Turner and senior safety Ross Rasner each intercepted fourth-quarter passes in the end zone. True freshman cornerback Will Hines intercepted a pass near the end of the first half as Auburn (1-4, 0-3) was driving.
Rasner’s forced fumble occurred when he came from behind and punched the ball away from Auburn’s leading receciver, Emory Blake. Hines recovered it at the Auburn 29-yard line, and the Hogs went ahead 10-0 five plays later on junior Zach Hocker’s 27-yard field goal.
Arkansas did have a couple of turnovers, as Smith referenced – a third-quarter fumble by sophomore Keante Minor on a punt return and a fourth-quarter fumble by true freshman running back Jonathan Williams. Neither led to points for Auburn.
Attacking leads to sacking
For a team that came in with just seven sacks and hadn’t blitzed a lot, the Hogs looked right at home attacking Auburn’s two quarterbacks – sophomore Kiehl Frazier (Shiloh Christian) and junior Clint Moseley.
Arkansas finished with eight sacks – the most since the 2000 Cotton Bowl vs. Texas.
Sophomore defensive end Trey Flowers, a native of Huntsville, Ala., led the way with a career-high 3 ½ sacks.
“Coach let us loose today,” said Flowers, who reported that a lot of family members were in the stands rooting for him. “He dialed up some blitzes and we just made sure we executed. A big thing was to just have confidence and go out there and make those plays, and that's what we did.
“Pretty much we just knew we had to go after and in the backend make sure we stay with our man. We had good coverage sacks today, and it was just a whole defensive effort.”
Junior defensive end Chris Smith had 1 ½ sacks. Senior linebacker Alonzo Highsmith had a sack before leaving the game in the first half with a lower leg injury, and senior linebacker Terrell Williams and senior defensive tackle Robert Thomas each had a sack.
“It was critical,” Smith said of the sacks. “We felt like we could coming into the game. Our defensive plan was to bring some pressure, bring some heat, and we didn't vary from that. I think Coach (Paul) Haynes up in the box did a good job of ‘Don't let me get conservative. Keep me going.’ We're talking all the time and he's talking and I think he did a good job with that. That was crucial for us.”
Different team offensively
Coordinator Paul Petrino went into the booth to call a game for the first time this season, and whether that changed the look of Arkansas’ offense, we’re not sure.
But it certainly looked different with Petrino not on the sideline.
The Razorbacks utilized play-action and bootlegs, even threw in a reverse pass for a touchdown, and got points on three of four trips into Auburn’s red zone.
Petrino had called the previous five games from the sidelines, but Smith suggested a change this week.
“We had talked about it, and in the staff meeting, I said there’s always where when I was coordinating I felt more comfortable if you can get your adjustments made on the field,” Smith said. “If you have confidence in those people down there making the adjustments that I want to make, then let’s do it. And he was all for it, and I think it was good. I think he did a great job of coming back and not always overadjusting.”
Senior quarterback Tyler Wilson finished 20 of 27 passing for 216 yards with no turnovers. He was sacked just once and spread the ball around to seven different receivers.
Senior running back Dennis Johnson had 17 carries for 76 yards and two touchdowns, and he finally got the bulk of the load. Junior Knile Davis spent much of the game on the sideline and finished with three carries for minus-four yards.
But the play of the game might have been that reverse pass in the fourth quarter. Arkansas was leading 10-7 and had a first-and-10 from the Auburn 26. Wilson took the snap and handed off to Johnson, who ran to the left and pitched the ball to Mitchell. Mitchell then threw a strike in the back of the end zone to Herndon.
“It was a huge play. That was a great call,” Smith said. “Coach Petrino did a great job and called it right at the right time, and we needed it. And it kind of worked to perfection, kind of just like the way you practice it.”
Wilson said having Petrino in the booth helped him focus on the task at hand.
"I think I like to be kind of in the zone, and I think a lot of times offensively you get distracted by what's happening on the defensive side,” Wilson said. “I've tried to preset to the guidance of we're on the bench. We need to have complete and total focus on what we do. I had the headset on, so I could completely zone out of what the crowd was doing, what our defense was doing; they were doing a good job. So I liked that aspect of it. I think he could see the field better and make some calls that he wouldn't normally make."
Highsmith’s injury ‘not good’
Injuries have played a big part in Arkansas’ struggles this season, and the team suffered another blow Saturday when Highsmith went down in the first half with a lower leg injury.
He went into the locker room and returned to the sideline with a walking boot on. Smith didn’t provide much in the way of details, but it doesn’t sound promising for the senior starting middle linebacker.
“He’s hurt. He’s hurt. He’s hurt,” Smith said. “He’s injured. And that’s one thing you hate about the game, so we’ll have to wait and see what he has. It’s not good.”
True freshman Otha Peters replaced Highsmith and finished with five tackles.
The Razorbacks were already without two starters on defense – senior defensive end Tenarius Wright (shoulder) and sophomore cornerback Tevin Mitchel (gall bladder). Eric Bennett returned Saturday from an injury that kept him out of last week’s Texas A&M game, but he looked limited, did not start and had just two tackles.
Auburn’s O-line awful
We knew Auburn’s young offensive line had issues, but those guys were basically whipped by a defense that, statistically, came in one of the worst in the country.
The Tigers started just one upperclassman on the offensive line, and it definitely showed. In addition to the sacks, Auburn ran for just 40 yards in the game.
Consider that Hogs defensive coordinator Haynes had called the Tigers’ running backs the heart and soul of that team, and Auburn had a bye last week, meaning the Tigers had two weeks to prepare for the Razorbacks.
“They gave the line a little trouble,” Moseley said. “There were times where we needed to throw the ball away. It's things like throwing it near a receiver that we have got to work on. It's not all line. It's something that we need to take responsibility for as quarterbacks, me and Kiehl. We need to get the ball out instead of having a negative play, third-and-17 or 20. Third-and-10 is manageable.”
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik didn’t put all of the blame on the offensive line, but he didn’t sugarcoat the Tigers’ team effort.
He also apologized to the Auburn fans who watched the game.
“Offensively, one of the most poor performances I have seen in a long time, just point blank,” Chizik said.
Field goal funk
Arkansas junior kicker Zach Hocker had a really rough day.
While he did hit one field goal and moved into sixth place on the UA’s all-time career points list, he also missed twice – from 26 yards on the opening drive, and from 50 yards with 38 seconds left in the first half.
The 26-yarder clanged off the right upright, and he just badly missed the 50-yard try.
The first miss could have been devastating to a fragile Arkansas team that had been blown out in both of its previous SEC games this season, and even Wilson admitted that, after the miss, he was thinking “Here we go again.”
Johnson said the Hogs didn’t lose faith, though.
"We knew we could drive and score,” Johnson said. “We told everybody to keep their heads up because we knew we would keep rolling, and eventually we would start scoring."