Saturday's Arkansas-Auburn game had about everything during its 60 minutes of action at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
A swinging gate, a player accused of faking an injury, a strangely timed and telegraphed on-sides kick, big runs, big pass plays, a long kickoff return and a holder throwing a fourth-down pass to keep a drive alive.
Even Arkansas' players, coaches and fans were excited about competing into the fourth quarter for the first time in a month.
It had everything but a Razorback win on Senior Night.
Tre Mason rushed 32 times for 168 yards and four touchdowns as No. 8 Auburn pushed Arkansas' losing streak to six with a 35-17 win before 66,835 fans Saturday night at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
"I think we did a few things out there to ourselves to take away a chance at a victory," noted Razorback head coach Bret Bielema, whose team had three turnovers. "I know our guys invested a lot in the last couple of weeks and I can't argue with they way they prepared, their effort or their attitude."
Arkansas (3-6, 0-5) did rally from 28-3 to make it 28-17 one play into the fourth quarter and had a chance for a big break when Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall fumbled.
But Marshall recovered his own fumble and Mason's fourth TD salted the game away – the last one at Razorback Stadium for Arkansas seniors.
"Every loss is tough, but this is the last one at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium and we had it, it was right there for us," Razorback senior fullback Kiero Small said. "We have to punch the ball in in the red zone and we can't turn it over."
It was the ninth straight SEC loss in the past two years for the Razorbacks, but at least Bielema saw some fight in his team after consecutive blowout losses to South Carolina (52-7) and Alabama (52-0).
That was not enough to overcome back-up quarterback AJ Derby's interception in the red zone to start the game and no points after getting to the Auburn 1-yard line on another drive near the end of the first half.
"Obviously the fourth quarter we had a resurgence there and had every faith and belief they were going to get it done, but we are not good enough at this point to get past that hump," Bielema said. "Turnovers are a big part of it. We had a couple chances in the red zone and have zero points and you are never going to beat a quality opponent or a ranked opponent with that. We had a chance a turnover when their quarterback fumbled, but we didn't get it."
Jonathan Williams had 15 carries for 104 yards rushing and Alex Collins 18 rushes for 92 yards for the Razorbacks, who rushed for 222 yards and were only outgained 366-346 by the Tigers (8-1, 4-1). Auburn did not commit a turnover.
Brandon Allen, who had a 41-yard TD pass dropped on the first possession of the night, was 10-of-22 passing for 112 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions for the first time in six games.
Bielema mentioned those guys as well as freshman tight end Hunter Henry, freshmen guards Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper, freshman returner Korliss Marshall – who had an 87-yard kickoff return – and wideouts Keon Hatcher and D'Arthur Cowan as guys he sees improving.
"We have some guys that are definitely moving in the right direction to get to where we want to be and when that day comes it will be very rewarding," Bielema said.
Bielema said he did some things Saturday to try and jumpstart a Razorback program that had been languishing in adversity.
"I try to be optimistic and with where we are at with the program right now we have tried to create some first downs and some bonus posessions," Bielema said. "We are 50-50 on that stuff.
"With three games remaining I see so many positive things," Bielema said. "I know it is frustrating, it is very frustrating for me as a head coach, just as it is for an assistant, as a player, as a senior, as a parent, as an alumni, as a fan, as an administrator. I get it. I understand it.
"It's not like I haven't been here before," Bielema added. "I know where we need to be. We are not there yet. This was a big recruiting weekend for us and I know some of those kids will see the opportunity to come in here and help us get to where we need to be."
It was the first win on the opposing sidelines coach for Auburn head coach and Arkansas native Gus Malzahn, who had lost in three tries as an assistant at Tulsa and Auburn.
The former Razorback assistant as well as Hughes, Shiloh Christian, Springdale and Arkansas State head coach was obviously pleased with the win.
Auburn was 3-9 overall and 0-8 in SEC action - which resulted in the firing of head coach Gene Chizak and the hiring of Malzahn away from Arkansas State.
"A big win for us, number eight," Malzahn said. "On the road, in this league, Arkansas came out and they were ready to play. They kept the ball away from us a lot in the first half. We were able to run the football."
Arkansas held the ball almost 22 of the 30 minutes in the first half and finished the game with a 34:14 to 25.46 advantage.
"They definitely controlled the ball," Malzahn said. "They kept it away from our offense. That was tough. We were a little impatient there, but we were able to run the football. Our mindset coming into this thing was we felt like we had to run the football. I think we only threw it nine times and for the most part. We were very successful at running it."
After giving up 111 unanswered points to South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn, the Razorbacks did end a scoreless drought of eight quarters with a second quarter field goal and finally found the end zone for the first time in the third quarter and again in the fourth.
Allen drove Arkansas 55 yards on the opening possession, including a nine-yard scramble on a play that he slid and got gashed in his calf.
"BA actually got cleated in the first quarter and was extremely resilient," Bielema said. " I know when I went out there and saw that I quickly turned away. It was not the prettiest thing you have ever seen. It was deep gash. He got it stapled up and was trying to get back out there as soon as possible."
He was carted off the field and – although Arkansas got a first down – Derby's pass was picked off by Cassnova McKinzy at the Razorback 19.
Allen came back out of the locker room just in enough time to see Derby fumble at the Arkansas 29 and Auburn recover.
Mason took care of that in two plays with a 20-yard dash and a 9-yard scoring jaunt.
Allen came back on to lead a 12-play, 58-yard drive that ended with Arkansas scoring its first points in eight-plus quarters.
That came on Zach Hocker's 34-yard field goal that cut it to 7-3 with 12:52 left in the second quarter.
The Razorbacks strangely went for an onside kick immediately after that – one that was unsuccessful and left the Tigers with just 38 yards to cover.
"We have been working on that one," Bielema said. "We've got three kickers, but our guys over there on the far side weren't paying attention. Obviously we were offsides...In retrospect I wish we wouldn't have done it. But there were two guys over there and we had five guys and we just didn't execute."
The Tigers covered the 38 yards in six plays with Mason doing the honors with a 4-yard run. It combined with Cody Pankey's PAT to push Auburn ahead 14-3 with 10:53 left in the half.
Arkansas had a chance to cut the lead to 14-10 while getting to the Auburn 1-yard in 15 plays. But two straight runs up the middle came up empty and the Razorbacks had to turn the ball over on downs.
"I know (Arkansas offensive coordinator) Jim (Chaney) is going to second-guess himself and say we should have thrown it, but we are trying to establish things and the ball is on the 1-yard line," Bielema said. "You've got be able to run it in. There has got to be a want-to and obviously that day will come. I think on both of those plays, it was the backside linebacker and we should have gotten him."
Auburn then took the second half kickoff and marched 65 yards in 11 plays with Mason scoring from the 5 as the Tigers went up 21-3.
Nick Marshall – 8 of 9 passing for 118 yards – then hooked up with Sammy Coates on an 88-yard catch and run for a score that made it 28-3 with 6:39 left in the third quarter.
Korliss Marshall's big kickoff return set up Allen's 13-yard touchdown pass to Hatcher that cut it to 28-10 with 6:11 remaining in the third quarter.
Arkansas' fourth quarter touchdown came after holder Brian Buehner converted a fourth down pass out of a swinging gate formation.
"Buehner is a very, very athletic kid and he had about three or four options there to make something happen and it obviously kept our drive alive," Bielema said. "We just kind of create some first downs."
Bielema was asked if Arkansas used the swinging gate because Auburn cut it out of the scout film it sent to the Razorbacks this week.
"No, you guys read to much into that," Bielema said. "We don't even call it the swinging gate. It's called field goal Buehner....We practiced it one time Tuesday and one time Thursday and used it today."
Malzahn says he almost called a timeout on the play.
"It was pretty good," Malzahn said. "I mean I almost called timeout and I was kind of kicking myself that I didn't call time out before. It was a well-executed play."
Small's 2-yard run cut it to 28-17 with 14:54 left in the contest.
During that drive, Auburn cornerback Anthony Swain faked an injury to slow down Arkansas offense and was called out by ESPN2's announcers for doing so.
"We don't tell our kids to fake injuries," Malzahn said.
It was news because Malzahn has accused other teams of doing the same thing to slow down his team.
"I didn't see it," Bielema said.
Arkansas has three games left in the season beginning with a trip to Ole Miss next week for an 11:21 a.m. game.
The Razorbacks will then host Mississippi State in Little Rock and end the regular season with a game at LSU.
"I think that the part, as a head coach, is that you have to be so far ahead of where you are at right now," Bielema said. "Recruiting, players, the program, there are so many positives going on right now that don't pop out to people who aren't in the program every day.
"We're learning how to run the football better, learning how to do certain things in the passing game," Bielema said. "It's not what everybody wants to hear. It's baby steps and I'd rather be sprinting, but we are walking."
Brandon Allen slides on the play that injured his ankle.
Jonathan Williams moves into the open field.
Javontee Herndon was ruled not to have held onto this possible first-quarter TD catch.
Alex Collins churns for yards.
Jarrett Lake makes a tackle on Nick Marshall.
Keon Hatcher rolls around end.
Brandon Allen was taken to the locker room in a cart after sustaining a gash in his shin.
Chris Smith pulls down Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall.
Bret Bielema protests a call.
Brooks Ellis (51) makes a tackle.
Photos by Jason Ivester, Hawgs Illustrated
Auburn 35, Arkansas 17
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