AUBURN, Ala. — Open up the talk-show lines. Stay tuned for message board drama.
The red flags are up. The meltdown is real.
Auburn got physical Saturday, opening a big lead against resurgent Arkansas. But the Razorbacks shook off a 17-point, first-half deficit to force Auburn to the precipice.
It took a a 38-yard Anders Carlson field goal with 7 seconds left for the 13th-ranked Tigers to escape with a 30-28 victory.
Yeah, we know. It was upset Saturday. Florida fell. LSU tumbled.
But a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to an Auburn rout. This outcome wouldn’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t happen. Until it did.
To Gus Malzahn, against his home state team, to a program with a first-year coach just a week removed from ending a 20-game SEC losing skid. Yeah, we know, 2020 has been a year like no other.
It will take a while to unwrap this one. Needing to re-establish a physical presence after getting manhandled by No. 3 Georgia a week ago, Auburn did just that from the start.
Freshman Tank Bigsby turned in a breakout performance, hitting the century mark before intermission.
And in less conventional fashion, Auburn’s running game found success with 300-pound tight end J.J. Pegues out of the wildcat. He got Auburn into an early rhythm with an 11-yard carry.
Suddenly, Auburn’s beleaguered offensive line was gashing holes that Bigsby began exploiting. But like a rainbow on a soggy day, the good times proved fleeting.
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The 17-point lead, established just 25 minutes into the game, quickly dissipated. While Auburn found initial success running on the rain-soaked Jordan-Hare turf, Arkansas did it through the air behind transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks, who took advantage of an Auburn defense that gets thinner by the day.
Auburn went into Saturday’s game without two key players — defensive end Big Kat Bryant and linebacker K.J. Britt — while defensive back Jaylin Simpson dressed but was saved for emergency purposes. Franks didn’t care.
Maybe what happened Saturday can be rationally explained. Maybe Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman has generated the greatest one-year turnaround in history.
But this is an Auburn program with College Football Playoff expectations. And, now, three weeks into the season, it is mediocre. At best.
So, call in. Post a missive. Warm up the hot seat. Auburn athletics director Allen Greene, update the Rolodex.
No alibis. No excuses. Not COVID-19, lack of spring practice, nor injuries.
This is vintage Auburn under Malzahn, the reason Gus Bus occupancy is always in transition.
Auburn’s wild rollercoaster has returned. And most fans just want to get off.
Follow Doug Segrest on Twitter @dsegrest