State of the Hogs: Cheap Points
AUBURN, Ala. - Arkansas had the offense for three quarters. It didn't have the kicking game or defense. Auburn did.
And the Tigers had the replay referee.
Two official reviews -- one fumble by Auburn, one by Arkansas -- went to Auburn. That was too much for the Hogs to overcome in a 65-43 loss at Jordan-Hare Stadium
Auburn got the call when Mario Fannin appeared to lose the ball before he crossed the goal line in the first half -- a play strangely ruled a touchdown. The Tigers got the call in the second half when Broderick Green fumbled on a third-and-1 play in the fourth quarter. The Tigers returned it 47 yards for the TD that provided some separation.
"I can't speak to the officials," Bobby Petrino said. "I don't want my pocket to be lighter. I can't do that. You guys (in the media) need to talk to someone in the league office."
Petrino was livid, but never got an audience with referee Penn Wagers, one of the SEC's veterans. He wore out the linesman and side judges on his side in the first half when it appeared Jerico Nelson knocked the ball away from Fannin and Anthony Leon covered it for the Hogs.
He was just as upset at the way the Hogs lost the field position battle. They had a punt blocked, lost a fumble and two interceptions and also gave up three long kickoff returns, one to the Arkansas 1-yard line.
These special team mistakes and turnovers meant the Hogs had an average starting point of their own 23 for the game. Auburn started on average at its own 43, the 50 in the second half.
Not only did the Hogs tackle poorly and take bad angles on kickoff coverage, their own blockers were whipped on their many kickoff returns. One error came in positioning of the deep back on kickoff returns. Mostly, he lined up too short so his momentum was always taking him backwards as the kick arrived. You want to start behind the ball, so you gather in the ball on the start forward. That alone can mean the difference in 10 yards on a return, possibly more.
Most of the post-game briefing concerned the two red-hot quarters from backup quarterback Tyler Wilson, stepping in for the injured Ryan Mallett.
"I have a lot of respect for Tyler," Petrino said. "He doesn't get a lot of time in team. He gets about half the plays in individual. But you always have a list of plays for the backup, things that he does well. I was happy with the way he kept his cool and he gave us a chance.
"I really liked the way the team rallied around Tyler, the wide receivers, the tight ends and the offensive line."
Wilson felt the support.
"I felt they had my back when I came in the game," he said. "I saw it in the huddle and I heard it. I saw it in their eyes. I knew they were going to follow me.
"As far as a list of plays, I thought we stuck with the playbook. I felt like it was a lot more than just four plays.
"I thought after I got settled in, it kinda felt effortless. Like it was meant to be. Maybe it was until the turnovers.
"There was that streak (of 15 straight completions) where it looked like it was going to be a magical night. Everybody was with me. I'm happy for that, but it didn't turn out (magical)."
Petrino was "disappointed" the Hogs couldn't do more with Cam Newton, the big, fast Auburn quarterback. But he might have been more upset at the way special teams turned out.
"Special teams were huge," Petrino said. "We had the punt blocked, the big return and we couldn't get any return yardage. That was a lot of field position.
"We got beat in the kicking game. They had a huge advantage in that area. They held us to no returns. Then, obviously, the turnovers in the fourth quarter were the difference."
Petrino saw positives even in a loss.
"I think we grew as a team," he said. "Obviously, we are disappointed. It's a tough loss. But we competed and battled."
While he wouldn't address the review on the Fannin fumble, he said the blocked punt and the review didn't knock the Hogs out of the game.
"We responded to that," he said. "We competed. We fought back and got the lead."
They never stopped the Auburn running game, especially Newton. The Tigers rushed for six touchdowns, three by Newton. The 6-6, 250-pound junior pounded and dashed past the Hogs 25 times for 188 rushing yards.
"We sent guys after him the whole night," Petrino said. "He has great ability to run the ball and he can throw it pretty good, too. He's a very good player."
Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said, "We tried to slide some guys to the side he was running in the second half. We put an extra man there and moved our defensive line that way. Then they knocked us off the ball and we didn't fit it right."
How will the Hogs respond with Ole Miss looming this week?
"I hope it's like we were after the Alabama game, hacked off and mad," Robinson said. "I do know we have to learn to tackle better."
Jake Bequette and Jerico Nelson said all of the Hogs got a shot at Newton at times and came up empty.
"We saw on film that he was both big and elusive and you think you are ready for that, but he's really a great player," Bequette said. "I thought they had a great game plan in the way they attacked us, our scheme and alignment.
"But, yeah, Newton is a big-time player. He's really fast. Give him a lot of credit. He did to us what we've seen him do on film. He's a great player."
Nelson said the Hogs sent "spies" after Newton, but few could get him down.
"I know I got run over one time on the goal line," Nelson said. "You see what he can do. If you go low, to take down a big man, he's just going to jump over you. So I tried to take him high and he ran over me.
"He's good, but I don't think we performed at our best. They ran the same plays we saw on film. They just ran their same stuff and we couldn't stop it. He made the plays. We didn't.
"I don't think there were many three and outs. We might have got one in the second half."
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