Auburn eked out a win over Chad Morris’s former team when it beat Arkansas 30-28.
With home field advantage and a weaker opponent than Georgia, Auburn looked much improved to start the game. But as the minutes passed, some of the same issues from the previous weeks revealed themselves again.
After two games where the Tigers defense could not get off the field on third downs, it came out and forced a three-and-out. Through the entire first quarter, it held Arkansas to drives that lasted five plays or less, accumulating three three-and-outs and two sacks.
The weather had a more visible effect on the offense, which had several dropped passes and slips. However, Auburn’s rushers dominated the field, accumulating more rushing yards in the first half (215 yards) than in their last three games combined.
Auburn built an eight-point, 20-12 lead by halftime and led 260 yards to 203 yards.
However, when it came back out, its offensive line struggles became more evident. Auburn built momentum on its first drive, but it was quickly killed when the Razorbacks broke through the offensive line and sacked quarterback Bo Nix twice in a row. Meanwhile, Arkansas’ offense put together a 13-play, 85-yard touchdown drive. A failed two-point conversion saved Auburn from losing its lead.
The Tigers gained a momentum boost when they started the fourth quarter by scoring a touchdown on the first play. But the defense didn’t feed off that momentum and allowed Arkansas to march straight down the field into the red zone. It held the Razorbacks to a field goal on that drive, but allowed them to score on the next drive.
The defense finally tightened up on its last and most important chance. With just a few minutes left and down one point, 27-28, it stifled all of Arkansas’ run attempts. Its third down stop gave Auburn the ball back with 2:16 to go. It was just enough time for Auburn to get into field goal territory and secure the win.
Special teams jump starts offense
The Tigers had not reached the end zone since the fourth quarter against Kentucky on September 26. They went the entire game against Georgia without a touchdown, but the special teams ended the drought when Jordyn Peters blocked a punt and Barton Lester recovered the ball in the end zone.
Auburn continued to have trouble finishing drives, and kicker Anders Carlson made two field goals so that the Tigers could still end the drive with points. While Carlson missed a go-ahead, 44-yard field goal in the final minutes that would have secured the win, he got another chance and made the 39-yard field goal for the 30-28 win. The special teams was responsible for 16 of the 30 points.
In addition to putting points on the board, the special teams also dominated the field position battle. Punter Aidan Marshall pinned the Razorbacks inside the 10 twice while Nix punted the ball out at the 25. Carlson had three touchbacks in the first half. If not for his one out-of-bounds kick just outside the end zone, he would have had four.
Auburn also had more attempts to return the ball than in past games. Both its punt returners and kick returners helped put Auburn in a good position at the start of each of its drives. Christian Tutt handled the punt returns and averaged 10 yards per return. Meanwhile, Tank Bigsby averaged 27 yards per return with a 35-yarder.
Run game offense’s strength
For two weeks, Auburn’s receiving game has had to carry the entire offense. Even though running back Bigsby was the offensive player of the game after Georgia, he had much greater contributions through the air than on the ground. But that completely reversed in the game against Arkansas.
By its second drive, Auburn had as many rushing yards as it had had the entire game against Georgia. By the end of the half, Auburn had 11 rushes for 10 yards or more, including a 41-yard rush by D.J. Williams and a 26-yard rush by Tank Bigsby. Nix had a 15-yard rushing touchdown. Compared to the 26 rush attempts, Auburn had just nine pass attempts in the first half.
However, coach Gus Malzahn often mentions the importance of not being one-dimensional. This game was the perfect example of that. While Auburn was successful on the ground, its offense could not finish drives until the passing game started clicking at the end of the third quarter. Auburn finished with 187 passing yards and 259 rushing yards.
Pass rush breaks through
Arkansas’ first attempt to put together an offensive drive ended when Colby Wooden broke through the line and drove quarterback Feleipe Franks into the ground. Wooden stuffed Arkansas on its next third-down attempt, as well. Then Zykeivous Walker sacked Franks on the third third-down attempt. The Tigers continued to hassle Franks, staying in his face and pressuring him to record two more quarterback hurries.
On Arkansas’ first drive of the second half, it marched down to the Auburn eight. While the line pushed through to tackle Arkansas for an eight-yard loss, a face mask penalty turned it into an Arkansas gain. Linebacker Owen Pappoe got his arms around Franks on the next play and forced him to throw it away. The Razorbacks still scored, but it held them off a play longer
The next time the Razorbacks threatened in the red zone, Derick Hall got in Franks’ face and forced him to throw it away. That led to a third-down stop, which forced the Razorbacks to settle for a field goal.
Despite pretty consistent pressure in the pocket, the Razorbacks still found success in the passing game. They found the holes in the secondary and took advantage. They finished with 21 receptions for 302 passing yards.
Auburn had Arkansas backed up deep in its own territory. The Razorbacks had to punt. As the ball left punter George Caratan’s foot, Auburn’s Jordyn Peters reached up and knocked the ball down, into the end zone. Barton Lester fell on it, giving Auburn its first points of the game. It not only opened the scoring for Auburn, but it did it in a big way. Auburn dominated the rest of the quarter, which helped carry it through weaker performances during the rest of the game.
Key player: Kicker Anders Carlson
Although Carlson broke his streak and gave Auburn fans a heart attack when he missed the last-minute field goal, he also scored the most points of any player on the field and secured the win with the 39-yard field goal. Carlson made three field goals for nine points. He went 3-4 field goal attempts, but he made the most important one.