Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, Ronnie Brown and Jason Campbell are no longer with the Auburn Tigers, but those 2005 first-round NFL draft picks who led their team to a unblemished mark last season weren't needed on Saturday night.
Auburn sophomore quarterback Brandon Cox overcame two first-half interceptions to throw for 203 yards and three second-half touchdowns as the Tigers won their 13th straight game over an SEC foe by downing Arkansas 34-17 before 71,673 fans Saturday night at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
"We had a slow start, but a fast finish," Auburn head coach and Arkansas native Tommy Tuberville said. "It looked like we had an open date (last week). It's been a long time since we dominated like we did (tonight). We set the tone early in the third quarter and there was no doubt we were going to win this game."
The Tigers (5-1, 3-0) - who have lost just one game in two years - trailed 10-3 late in the the second half, but kicked a field goal before intermission and then scored touchdowns on all four of their timed-consuming possessions of the second half to take control of the contest.
"We played hard in the first half," Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt said. "We felt great about it, too. We felt like we had them off balance and ready to go in the second half. The third quarter just got away from us. That was a disappointing thing. Their defense kept us off the field and that wore our defense out."
Arkansas (2-4, 0-3) lost for the second time in as many games in Fayetteville this season, for the fourth time in five games and missed an opportunity to even their overall record.
Razorback sophomore Peyton Hillis - who had 7 catches for 81 yards and 4 carries for 8 yards - probably best summed up the feelings of all of his teammates.
"This a game that could have turned around our season," Hillis said. "This is a game that we should have won. We had a mental breakdown and I put the blame on nobody but myself."
Razorback freshman tailback Darren McFadden had 108 yards rushing and two touchdowns while Arkansas was outgained 436-322 in total offense.
Sophomore quarterback Robert Johnson was 17-of-28 passing for 174 yards with one interception.
Auburn running back Kenny Irons was the workhorse for his team with 182 yards rushing on 33 carries.
That was too much for an Arkansas defense, which was left on the field on far too long during the night and was led by a 17-tackle effort by junior linebacker Sam Olajubutu.
"They came out and had a great game plan and were blitzing about every play," Cox said. "It took us by surprise. We had a lot of play action in the second half."
Arkansas got on the board early when Marcus Harrison's rush bothered Cox and he threw the ball into the hands of Razorback defensive back Michael Coe.
Coe returned the ball 9 yards to sit up the UA offense at the Auburn 30, but the Razorbacks had to settle for Chris Balseiro's 19-yard field goal to go up 3-0 with 9:26 left in the opening quarter.
" I wish those threes had been sevens instead," Nutt said. "We didn't execute when we had the chance."
It stayed that way through the end of the first quarter, but Auburn did tie it up 3-3 when John Vaughn drilled a 22-yard chip shot, which was a victory of sorts for the Arkansas defense because the Tigers had gotten to the Razorback 6.
The home team had a chance to take the lead later in the second quarter, but Balseiro's 38-yard attempt was partially deflected and the Razorbacks came up empty - only to get the ball back quickly.
More pressure on Cox resulted in a Vickiel Vaughn interception on a pass that looked more like a punt and he returned the pick yards to the Auburn 27. It was then moved to the 13 because of a personal foul penalty on the Tigers.
On 3rd and 6th from the Auburn 9, Johnson overthrew Cedric Logan, but he was held giving Arkansas a new set of downs and a 1st and goal from the 5 - which McFadden covered on the next play.
Balseiro's PAT boosted Arkansas ahead 10-3 with 2:20 left before halftime.
But that left Auburn enough time to sprint nearly the length of the field and Vaughn to boot a 38-yard field goal with 34 seconds left that got the Tigers within 10-6 at intermission.
The visitors took the lead on their first possession of the second half, a 7-play, 73-yard drive that was culminated in Cox's 17-yard pass to Devin Aromashodu, which combined with Vaughn's PAT gave Auburn a 13-10 lead with 12:04 left in the third quarter.
That advantage grew to 20-10 on the next Tigers' next possession, a 14-play, 85-yard march that ended with Cox hitting Tre Smith with a 5-yard scoring pass and Vaughn adding the PAT with 1:24 left in the third quarter.
Auburn then put the game with a bit of good fortune when Cox's pass went through the hands of Vaughn and into the ones of senior tight end Cooper Wallace for a 9-yard touchdown.
Vaughn's PAT put the visitors comfortably ahead 27-10 with 12:08 left in the final quarter.
"They blitzed almost the entire first half and we just decided to run right past it in the second half," Tuberville said. "They had a good gameplan, but we played almost a perfect second half. (Offensivel) it was as flawless as I have ever seen."
The Razorbacks did cut the lead to 10 when McFadden ran in from 17 yards out with 9:34 remaining in the contest, a scoring run that capped an 80-yard touchdown drive.
But Auburn just loaded back up and scored its fourth touchdown in as many possessions as Smith ran in from 7 yards out with 3:37 remaining.
"The fans and student body was a great crowd tonight," Nutt said. "We wish we could have won for them."
Arkansas will return to action next Saturday when it travels to Georgia, now 6-0 after Saturday night's 34-17 win at Vanderbilt.
"We have to learn how to play a complete game," Arkansas' Vaughn said. "We played a great first half, but we did not finish. We have to simply learn how to come out and finish."
Auburn - a half game back of Alabama for the SEC Western Division lead - travels to LSU for its next game.
Auburn 34, Arkansas17
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