Arkansas Makes it "Fun" in 4 OT victory over Auburn, 54-46

Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen figured out how to have some fun in a four overtime victory over Auburn. Allen said it was the "most fun" he's ever had playing football.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Irony? Poetic justice? Someone even suggested in the post-game interviews that there had been demons around this Arkansas football team. Maybe they haunted fifth-year quarterback Brandon Allen as much as head coach Bret Bielema?

Perhaps they were finally exorcised -- maybe appropriately with Gus Malzahn on the opposing sideline fighting gamely to inflict more mental anguish -- on Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. It's clear he's not Bielema's favorite guy.

Allen, limping through a shin bruise at the end, made all of the critical plays as the Razorbacks won a gut-wrenching 54-48 victory over Auburn in four overtimes in a game that might catapult Allen into something neat for the final six games of his college career.

Or, maybe it's the start of a seven-game run, knowing that the Hogs might now be in position for post-season play, likely to be at 4-4 after what is surely a beat-down of Tennessee-Martin back in Fayetteville next week.

None of that is what Allen was thinking after the Hogs scored the final 16 points of the last two overtimes to subdue the equally gutty Tigers in the four-hour, five-minute marathon.

No, Allen said over and over it was just about having "fun" for a change. Allen was reminded by Bielema every time he trotted -- or limped -- back onto the turf.

"It's supposed to be a fun game," Allen said. "And this was the most fun I've ever had. Just to play a tight SEC game in this kind of atmosphere is fun. It was fun today.

"I know Coach Bielema has tried to make it easier by reminding me. It's just a game. We put so much pressure on ourselves, but it all really just comes down to making it fun."

Allen was last to the interview room and seemed to have the best information on injured running back Rawleigh Williams, carted from the field with what looked to be a neck injury. Allen said he was relieved to hear that Williams was going to be fine.

That made everything seem more fun, Allen said. He did confirm that Bielema worked hard to make it fun for the quarterback.

Bielema said, "I just tried to hit his hand every time he went out there and said, 'Have fun.'  He's had so much on him. He just needed to have some guys around him make plays and they did today."

The Hogs tied it in the third overtime when Kody Walker scored on a 4-yard touchdown run, followed by an Allen roll-out pass to Jeremy Sprinkle on the two-point play. Allen hit Drew Morgan on a short pass for a 25-yard touchdown play to open the fourth overtime, then found Walker on the two-point play.

That's when a defense finally got the big stop that has been missing in all the close losses over the last two seasons. It started with JaMichael Winston stuffing Peyton Barber for 1-yard on first down. Auburn helped with a drop on second down, but Jared Collins and Josh Liddell knocked down the next two Sean White passes to set off the celebration.

Allen hugged everyone in sight, losing most of his eye black in the process. There were embraces for everyone in his family and many the quarterback didn't know.

"That's the fun part, getting to be with your family and all of our fans in this stadium after a big win," he said. "It's a huge win. We needed it. We want to finish these last six games in a big way and we needed this one to get the train rolling. It's rolling now."

Interestingly, it's the third straight SEC victory in the home stadium. It's also the fourth in the last seven SEC games dating back to wins against LSU and Ole Miss last year.

"We are pretty good in SEC games here, especially with this crowd," Allen said. "But it's about just playing the next game, or the next play. That's what I reminded everyone today in overtime. Just play this play. We'd make a good play in the overtime -- and really the end of regulation to get the field goal -- and I'd tell them to play the next play and not get too excited about the one they just made.

"You make a play, you have to stay calm. I knew when it got into the overtime, that (Auburn) was going to get another chance and we might be back out there. So you play that play, get ready for the next one, or getting right back out there."

That was the case until sophomore free safety Josh Liddell batted down White's pass for Ricardo Louis. He jumped the route and got a hand on the ball.

"Amazing, just amazing," Liddell said. "That's what I think about all of this. Amazing. It's the best play of my career. It means a lot to get the win and be a part of it.

"I think we showed the heart of Arkansas today. We hung in."

Bielema revealed the internal struggles of a team fighting to just stay alive the previous week as they finished the first half at 2-4 with a tough loss at Alabama. Liddell had been benched after the Texas Tech game and actually came to Bielema's office to request a position switch.

"No way," Bielema told him. "I remember thinking last year after the first couple of weeks that he was the cream of the freshman crop."

Bielema told him to persevere. Liddell bounced back in the first week after the Alabama loss, eventually winning his starting job back. He was listed as first team in Monday's depth chart for the Auburn game.

"I don't even know what position I wanted to go play (on offense)," Liddell said. "I really didn't know. There was nothing specific."

It just wasn't working at safety. Defensive coordinator Robb Smith suggested that Liddell was the right choice at free safety after Santos Ramirez was burned deep against Alabama and the looks favored by Malzahn were more about alignment mistakes.

Liddell recognized the look on the last Auburn play, three receivers to one side and Louis alone to the other.

"They love to go to Louis on third down, or fourth down," Liddell said. "He's their guy. So when I saw him by himself, I was going to go to him.

"We had a press matchup call. I was free at safety. I knew we didn't have to worry about anything deep because we were in the red zone. So I was coming up for that play. I also knew we had pressure coming to the quarterback and he was going to have to make a quick throw. I saw the spot and I just beat him to it.

"It feel so good. I was down on myself. I was low. I just decided to get back to working hard and it did work out."

There were times it looked like it wouldn't work out for the Hogs. They had a 14-0 lead and a field position break with a short field, only to give up the ball on Allen's interception near the goal line, the only turnover of the game by either side.

It didn't turn until Robb Smith called a goal line defense with six on the line to open the fourth overtime, producing Winston's stop. That was when Malazhn went to a four wide look, something the Hogs seemed to handle all day. Three plays later, it was over.

"I didn't even see that last series," said Allen. "I was turning to the crowd, trying to get them loud. It was pretty loud."

It was the loudest its been in a long time in the old stadium when Allen hooked up with Morgan and Walker in the last overtime.

"Our defensive guys were telling us that they couldn't even hear it was so loud," Allen said. "It was a great feeling when I saw the ball on the ground after Josh's play."

Morgan said it reminded him of some of the championship plays he was part of in high school at Greenwood.

"So much fun," he said. "I wanted the ball at the end. I had a freshman cornerback. I thought I could beat him on any route. I did a few times. And, boy did Brandon put it on my numbers. He made some great, great throws.

"The last touchdown, it was a simple out pattern. I felt a hand on my hip and I knocked it off. Next thing I knew, it just saw green in front of me.

"This was so great. We just needed to get the train back rolling. It's rolling."

Morgan pointed to Allen's play for getting it rolling.

"Brandon just kept us level headed with all of the excitement of the overtimes," Morgan said. "He's say, 'That's great, but it's not it. It hasn't happened yet. Keep playing.

"He just felt different in what he was doing. He was calm and we were calm around him. He was so easy in the pocket. He had protection and every time we turned, the ball was right there. Every time. He made it fun."

Well, maybe it all slowed down and was finally fun for everyone.

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