AUBURN, Ala. - Earlier in the week, University of Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino talked about how his team was going to be in a heavyweight title fight at Auburn on Saturday.
He noted the Razorbacks would have to land some blows, take some, try to stay upright and just stay in the battle.
That's exactly what happened, but the unbeaten and No. 7 Tigers (7-0, 4-0) had the biggest, baddest guy in the ring and he and his corner mates landed big-time hay makers in the final quarter.
Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton accounted for 328 yards total offense and four touchdowns as his team off-set a career day from Tyler Wilson and helped his team down No. 12 Arkansas 65-43 before a capacity crowd of 87,451 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"It was a tough game for us," Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said. "You have to tip your hat off to Auburn, they played well and Cam Newton did an unbelievable job running the football. We matched them for three quarters, and I was really happy with the way our guys rallied around Tyler Wilson. They all played hard. I really thought we would find a way to win the game, but we came up short. Obviously turnovers affected us in the fourth quarter, and it was the difference in the game."
The game featured 1,036 yards of total offense as Arkansas had almost 100 more than Auburn, but the Tiger got points on nine of their 11 offensive possessions.
"I was disappointed to give up that many points and that many yards and I didn't think we played as fast as we had been playing, I didn't think we got a number of guys to the ball like we had been doing," Petrino said. "They played real well and he's a great player and had a good scheme."
Newton (6-6, 250), an emerging Heisman Trophy candidate who was once Tim Tebow's back up at Florida, had 188 yards rushing and was 10-of-14 passing for 140 yards.
"This team just amazes me in different ways every week," Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said. "That was an extremely good football team we played tonight. I guess it was another way we found how to win a game."
Newton just took it all in stride on a day that proved to be a shootout.
"I'm sitting there on the sideline saying, 'Wow, we have this many points, and they have that many points,'" Newton said. "At one point, we didn't want to score too fast because it was like a heavyweight boxing match."
His performance offset a career day by Arkansas redshirt sophomore back-up Wllson, who replaced injured starter Ryan Mallett (10-of-15 passing, 96 yards, 1 TD) late in the second quarter, who had a concussion.
"When I came in I was informed by the trainer he wouldn't be available," Petrino said
. Wilson ended up completing 25-of-34 passing for a career-high 332 yards and four touchdowns although Auburn did solve him late for 2 interceptions and 2 sacks.
He rallied the Razorbacks (4-2, 1-2) from 24-14 37-28 deficits to give them a 43-37 lead on touchdowns passes of 34 yards to Joe Adams and 23 to Greg Childs (9 catches, 164 yards and 2 TDs).
At one point, Wilson had completed his first 15 passes for 273 yards before things fell apart for Arkansas in the fourth.
"I thought he had a lot of poise and executed very well," Petrino said. "He was concentrating, focusing and making plays. The way the team rallied around him and came out and played to help Tyler was something good to see."
Wilson was just 1-of-3 for 6 yards coming into the game, all in the opener against Louisiana-Monroe.
"We give both our quarterbacks time in practice, Wilson takes all the individual reps, and splits the team reps," Petrino added. " We always try to have a player prepared to play. We have a list of plays we think Tyler executes well, and we try to stay to that. I have a lot of respect for Tyler Wilson, he's a really good player and can throw the football. I was happy with the way he was calm out there, he gave us a chance to be in the position for us to win in the fourth quarter, and obviously we didn't get it done."
That happened because Newton was the man. He regained his team's momentum and led a touchdown for a 44-43 lead with 11:44 left in the game.
Wilson started driving his team down the field, but Green's fumbled was picked up and returned 47 yards by Zac Etheridge who took it in for a score.
"I saw Daren Bates and Mike Blanc tackle a guy and I saw the ball pop out, so I just picked it up and ran," Etheridge said. "My hat goes off to the guys that smothered the ball and made the play."
Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes had an interception later in the quarter, but he thought that the fumble was the game changer.
"The fumble recovery started it all," Bynes said. "That is what changed the game."
The Tigers added two more scores before the game was over with Newton crashing in from three yards out and then Little Rock native Michael Dyer raced 38 yards for a Auburn to cap the scoring.
"Usually it's the big plays and turnovers," Petrino said. "We turned the ball over and in this game it was also special teams. They had a huge advantage in special teams. That played a big part in it."
The Razorbacks (4-2, 1-2) actually out-gained the Tigers 566-470 yards in total offense, but had three turnovers in the fourth quarters.
"The thing that stands out to me the most was that we were able at the end of the game to get three turnovers to change the game," Chizik said. "What that says in my opinion is that our football team is just resilient. Our defense is resilient.
"...When it was the fourth quarter, and when we made plays and when we had to get turnovers, we got three," Chizak added.
Newton, whose team has won three games by three points, perhaps summed it up best.
"We refuse to lose," Newton said."The tighter the game gets, the tighter our team gets."
His coach knows what he has on his hands.
"No. 2 (Newton) is one spectacular football player," Chizik said. "I'm not one to go out on a limb, but everyone in the world can see it."
They also had several special team breakdowns during a game, which was the first of the season that defensive tackle Zach Stadther played.
That allowed former Arkansas offensive coordinator and current Auburn OC Gus Malzahn a chance to have his team beat the Razorbacks for the first time in 3 years.
"Going 9-for-9 down there (in the red zone) is pretty special,"Chizik said, "It is hard to do. I think our guys have a lot of confidence down there. I think Coach Malzahn has great game plans week to week, and they are all different. When we get to those different landmarks on the field, and I think we have confidence when we go down there we can score."
Auburn rushed for 330 yards.
"It was amazing. We went out there and played as a team," Newton said. "The offensive line was the key. Running behind them, it just wasn't me. The whole running back core, all of them had an excellent game. So, it just wasn't me running the football, the glory goes to the whole offensive line." The Razorbacks had a nice ground effort for themselves with 138 yards with Knile Davis recording career highs in carries (14) and yards (91) for the second straight week.
"Knile ran the ball hard, and he did a real nice job in protection," Petrino said. "He continues to hit the holes on time. He's been real physical running the football, but had one mistake right before halftime. He did a real nice job in the second half of being in the game, and helping everyone else." Arkansas's fans, players and coaches will no doubt look back at two plays that were reviewed and didn't go into the Razorbacks' favor.
Mario Fannin's apparent fumble before a touchdown in the second quarter was initially not ruled a touchdown, then ruled a score and then reviewed and the score stood.
Green's fumble, with his team trailing 44-43, was fumbled and that was confirmed via review.
"The fumble recovery started it all," linebacker Josh Bynes said. "That is what changed the game." Newton continued his fantastic play this season, rolling up 142 of his rushing yards and 88 of his passing ones while leading his team to a 27-21 halftime advantage.
Arkansas did not score on its first possession for the first time in four games, but did keep its streak alive of scoring first.
That occurred on the Razorbacks' second possession when Mallett hit Van Stumon with a 7-yard touchdown pass.
It was a 8-play, 55-yard drive, with Hocker's PAT giving Arkansas a 7-0 lead with 7:54 remaining.
But Newton and Auburn answered, in large part because of Demond Washington's 47-yard kickoff return. He would later have a 99-yard return.
Because of that – and a third-down offsides penalty – the Tigers only needed 7 plays to cash in and did so on Newton's 5-yard run.
Byrum was true on the PAT and also a 43-yard field goal 12 seconds into the second quarter to put Auburn up 10-7.
Mallett and Arkansas countered with a 12-play, 88-yard drive that included 16-yard passes to Jarius Wright and Hamilton and Adams a 12-yard run from tailback.
An Auburn pass interference call on third down allowed Green's 1-yard plunge to send the Razorbacks up 14-10 with 6:28 capping the drive.
The Tigers got the next two scores on Fannin's controversial 4-yard TD run and Ontario McCalebb's 13-yard scoring jaunt after the home team blocked a punt.
Those two scores put Auburn up 24-14, but Arkansas would cut into that before halftime.
"I thought we responded real well," Petrino said. "Nobody put their head down and we just competed harder." Wilson came on for Mallett and led his team on a 7-play, 66-yard dash that took just under 3 minutes.
He hit Childs on a 34-yard touchdown strike to get it to 24-21 with 1:06 left in the half.
"You've got to be ready when your number is called," Wilson said. "And for a while there we knew that Ryan wasn't going to be ready to go. You've got to prepare yourself mentally, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that this week. I think I prepared myself pretty well."
It did leave Newton time to get Byrum a 26-yard field goal shot and he nailed it sent Auburn to the locker room with a 27-21 lead.
The Tigers took the second half kickoff and sprinted down the field, but the Razorbacks kept them out of the end zone and Byrum settled for a 28-yarder to put his team up 30-21.
Wilson's 37-yard TD pass to Wingo cut it to 30-28, but Washington ripped off a 99-yard return on the ensuing kickoff.
When Newton dived in from one yard out and Byrum added the PAT, Auburn had a 38-27 lead and looked on its way to a win before Wilson got his team going.
Wilson gathered that his teammates had confidence in him.
"I just felt like they had my back when I came in," Wilson said."That meant the most to me. I saw belief in their eyes and they told me `We're going to follow you. Just keep doing what you're doing.'"
The Razorbacks will host Ole Miss next weekend at 11:21 a.m. while Auburn hosts LSU for the SEC West on that same day at 2:30 p.m.
"I do think we grew as a team in that battle because of the way our guys rallied around Tyler Wilson" Petrino said. "The competitiveness that we showed, the energy that we showed. We improved as a team and that is what you have to do in big games."
While the Razorbacks didn't get the win, they do believe they took away something in the loss.
"Confidence," Wilson said. "We can take confidence. I thought our confidence was great coming out into the second half. And to play like that in an away game where the crowd is really loud - because Auburn's crowd is real loud - and just to play our game like that coming out in the second half I thought we did real good. We've just got to get in and watch film, and get it figured out because we've got Ole Miss next week."
Cam Newton steps away from the Arkansas defense.
Bobby Petrino lets a referee know how he felt.
Greg Childs hauls in a TD pass.
Tyler Wilson fires a pass in the second half.
Cobi Hamilton hauls in a pass.
Knile Davis rolls in the first half.
Photos by Marc F. Henning, Hawgs Illustrated