After seemingly going 0 for forever in games played in Fayetteville (actually 0-4) vs. the team that he grew loving as a boy in a small Arkansas town, the Auburn coach got his breakthrough victory and his Tigers kept their dream alive of winning the SEC Championship with a hard-fought 10-3 football victory on Saturday over the Arkansas Razorbacks.
The game was in doubt until the final minutes when Karlos Dansby's fourth down blitz and sack ended the Razorbacks' last real chance to tie the game. "We showed a lot of heart," said Dansby, who added, "I am just happy I can be a part of this and be a leader on this football team."
Carnell Williams scores the only TD of the game on a double-tight end set just before halftime.
Arkansas got the football back for one play at its own 22, but QB Matt Jones had no chance to get away from Demarco McNeil's tackle as the Tigers were finally able to put behind two years of frustration from miserable, back-to-back losses to the Razorbacks.
"We went back to last year's game and looked at how the problems occurred," said defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. "We talked about trying to control the line of scrimmage. They let a couple of them slip out of there and we had some missed tackles, but Arkansas has a tremendous running game. They are running for 280 to 300 yards per game.
"Our deal was, look, let's just keep battling them and keep fighting them," Chizik added. "We didn't change a whole bunch from what we have done any other week. Our guys executed the defense and when things got tough they never laid down. They kept coming back, hammering at them again. It was just a great team effort from everybody from the defensive line working back down to the linebackers and then the secondary making some huge, huge plays."
The victory was particularly satisfying to the seniors on defense, who had suffered embarrassing losses as their team gave up 42 and 38 points to the Razorbacks in the last two showdowns. Keeping Arkansas out of the end zone was important to senior defensive lineman McNeil
"I guess it says that we are pretty good ball club," he said, noting the Tigers have beaten Top 10 teams in back to back games. "We have room to improve, but this was big--every game is big as long as you keep winning," said McNeil, who added, "We have got to keep it going."
The victory moved the Tigers to 4-2 overall, but importantly, 3-0 in the SEC. Arkansas fell to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the SEC.
For a supercharged head coach, it is hard to overstate how much the victory meant after nearly being named head coach of the Razorbacks prior to Tuberville leaving Ole Miss for Auburn. "This was an emotional game for me," Tuberville said. "It was a big game for the team. Most of the other coaches have been here three or four times, but this is the first time we've come away with a win. It feels good."
Tuberville called it another blue collar effort by his team. "We came out with our hard hats on today and played our hearts out. Nothing fazed us. The fans here are amazing and the atmosphere was tough, but we overcame the obstacles and pulled out a win."
The Tigers had the first scoring opportunity after winning the toss for the first time in the last 10 tries. (Justin Fetsko called tails on the advice of defensive lineman T.J. Jackson). Auburn deferred, played defense and forced a three and out. On the first play from scrimmage, Carnell Williams raced 44 yards. It was the first of many fine runs on a day in which he rushed for 150 yards on 35 carries.
AU moved to first down at the Arkansas 16, but three plays later lost the football as Jason Campbell threw a wild pass under heavy pressure that was picked off by safety Tony Bua, who was tackled at the Razorback five.
Arkansas mounted its first drive on its third possession of the first quarter with Matt Jones doing most of the damage by passing the ball. However, the Razorbacks couldn't cash in either as Chris Balseiro missed a 33-yard field goal attempt wide left.
Auburn took over at its 20 and Tommy Tuberville rolled the dice four plays later on fourth down and less than a yard to go at the 29. After trying to draw the Razorbacks offside and then calling a timeout, Campbell converted the play with a quarterback sneak on the next to last play of the opening quarter.
On the next set of downs, Tuberville elected a different tactic on fourth and one as Bliss was called on to punt after the Tigers just missed a bomb to Anthony Mix as Campbell faked the dive play and held the football on his hip.
Arkansas moved the ball into Auburn territory late in the first half before the Tigers put up a brick wall at the 36 yard line. With second down and one, Auburn stopped the Razorbacks three straight times to take over on downs with Travis Williams making the hit on fourth down with 4:53 left in the second period.
Auburn finally cashed in on its next opportunity, the Tigers' final possession of the first half. Two punting plays helped set up the score. Kody Bliss backed up the Razorbacks to their own five with a 52-yard punt and the first penalty of the game on the home team, a holding call on the punt return.
Antarrious Williams and T.J. Jackson wrap up QB Matt Jones.
After Jones passed for a first down to get the Razorbacks off the goal line, Auburn forced a punt. Tre Smith caught the rolling ball near the Auburn sideline and was then hit late after a short gain. That put the Tigers in business at the Razorback 41.
Campbell and his buddy, senior wide receiver Jeris McIntyre, got the scoring drive started with a 20-yard pass and run over the middle. The Cadillac raced 16 yards on the next play, giving the Tigers first and goal at the five. He was stuffed at right tackle a play later. AU called a timeout, its second, and on the next play and attacked the same spot on the defense. This time he scored standing up with the help of strong blocks from Marcus McNeill and Brandon Johnson. John Vaughn made the PAT to put the Tigers on 7-0 with 29 seconds left in the half.
In the third quarter, Arkansas was pinned back at its own three on its opening possession. The Razorbacks got the ball off the goal line and into Tiger territory, but again couldn't get past the 35 on a key fourth down play. With four yards to go, the Tigers had a deep sideline pass covered like a blanket with Junior Rosegreen and Karibi Dede to knock it down giving possession to the Tigers.
A heads up play by the Arkansas punt return team set up an Arkansas field goal. A short snap to protector Jake Slaughter on fourth and two at the Auburn 43 was stuffed for a yard loss. Arkansas moved the ball nine plays before settling for a 25-yard field goal by Balseiro with 2:14 left in the third quarter.
Auburn took the kickoff and kept the ball for 7:24 before matching the field goal on a 34-yarder by Vaughn with 9:50 left in the game. That ended the scoring, but not the drama.
Arkansas drove the ball from its 20 to a first and 10 at the Tiger 21. Matt Jones, on a keeper, slashed his way inside the Auburn 10, but a tackle by Travis Williams jarred the ball loose and Junior Rosegreen made a recovery at the eight-yard line with 6:21 left.
Auburn couldn't move the football, but a good punt by Kody Bliss that went 43 yards with no return put the Razorbacks back at the AU 48. After making one first down, Auburn took the ball away when Dansby sacked Jones for a five-yard loss at the Auburn 40 with 2:30 and no Arkansas timeouts left.
Auburn burned all but 13 seconds with three Williams runs and a 45-yard Bliss punt that was returned 14 yards to the 22. Then Jones tried to run the distance on a keeper, but he never had a chance as the Tigers won.
For Tuberville, who was 2-6 in games as a head coach vs. the Razorbacks, the victory was extra sweet. "Arkansas was the last team in the league we hadn't beaten," said the coach, who added, "We shut them down on their homecoming day. It is amazing. I thought it would be a 20-point game on both sides."
The coach singled out junior tailback Williams for special praise. "When you bring a healthy Cadillac in the game, you have a pretty good chance. It was another amazing performance."
Auburn is back in action next Saturday with a 1:30 p.m. home game vs. Mississippi State.
Game Notes: Carnell Williams carried the ball 20 times in the first half for 124 yards. AU outgained the Razorbacks 180-154 in the first two periods. Each team held the ball for 32 plays...The SEC's leading rusher, Cedric Cobbs, had just nine yards on seven carries at intermission, but his backup De'Arrius Howard was much more effective with 50 yards on eight carries...AU held a 15:54 to 14:06 time of possession advantage in the first half...The three points are the fewest the Tigers have allowed an SEC team since shutting out Alabama 9-0 in 2000...AU has won five straight games vs. Top 10 teams when the Tigers were unranked...AU improved its all-time record in Fayetteville to 3-2 with its first victory here since 1997...SEC rushing leader Cobbs finished with 78 yards on 16 carries. That was 72 yards below his average...Carnell Williams became the first Tiger to carry the ball 35 times in back to back games...The last time AU did not allow a TD was in a 31-6 win vs. Vanderbilt in 2002.