The Tigers suffered a 44-23 setback after the defense couldn't consistently stop the Razorback offense that racked up 495 yards vs. the Tigers with just one turnover.
The Auburn offense struggled early, didn't make enough plays on third downs and contributed to the Tigers getting into too deep a hole to dig out of the second half.
The special teams failed the Tigers, too, with a fumble on a kickoff return and perhaps the biggest play of a game filled with big plays. With the Tigers trying to rally from a 27-3 halftime deficit and trailing 34-23 late in the third quarter after a pair of quick back-to-back touchdowns by Auburn, the special teams miscue cost Coach Gene Chizik's team dearly by allowing Dennis Johnson to race 70 yards with the following kickoff.
Arkansas cashed in that big return with a three-yard run by Broderick Green with 11:22 to play to seal Auburn's fate as most of the crowd of 72,259 at Reynolds-Razorback Stadium enjoyed their team's first SEC win. Arkansas improved to 1-2 in the league and 3-2 overall while Auburn fell to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in conference play.
"Arkansas executed very well," Auburn junior linebacker Josh Bynes said. "They did what they were supposed to do and we didn't. They came off the ball fired up and we were a step behind. They executed their offense to the fullest and we just didn't make enough plays all-around to win--defensively, offensively and on special teams."
Chizik agreed with the linebacker and went out of his way to heap praise on the home team. "Arkansas played very, very well," he said.
Chizik pointed out that his team made too many mistakes to win any SEC game and didn't perform well on third downs when it had the football. The numbers bear that out as the Tigers fumbled four times and lost three. Auburn converted just 4-14 third downs, which helps explain the loss and a huge difference in time of possession.
Arkansas kept the ball 38 minutes and 27 seconds while Auburn had the ball for just 21 minutes and 33 seconds as the Tigers finished the game with 375 yards of total offense--242 on the ground and 133 through the air.
"We wanted to mix it up a little bit on offense," said Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino, the former Auburn offensive coordinator. "I think we did that. It's the first time really all season that we've gotten the running game going the way we thought we could, and you could see the impact it had and how it opened things up down the field."
Little Michael Smith was the big ground gainer for the Razorbacks. He carried the ball 18 times for 145 yards and one score.
Auburn's Ben Tate led all rushers with 184 yards and two touchdowns.
Signs came early and often that the Tigers were going to have a tough time keeping their winning streak alive. The first quarter was the worst of the season for the Tigers' offense. Auburn managed just one first down in the period and failed to score during a quarter for the first time this season.
After the Tigers won the toss, took the football and opened with a three-and-out, the Razorbacks put together a 12-play drive that covered 73 yards in 5:41. Running back Green scored at right guard from two yards out to make the lead 6-0 as the PAT was no good after the Razorbacks had problems with the snap and hold.
Things got worse for the Tigers early in the second quarter. After the defense stopped the home team on third down and fourth down plays at the Auburn 37, the Tigers couldn't move the football and punted to the Razorbacks again.
With the help of a personal foul on Zac Etheridge and a holding call on Neiko Thorpe, the Razorbacks moved the football 70 yards on just five plays to go ahead 13-0 with 13:49 left in the first half. Michael Smith got the touchdown on a sweep at right end from 25 yards out.
The deficit ballooned to 20 less than a minute later as Mario Fannin fumbled the football on the kickoff giving Arkansas great field position at the Auburn 34.
Passes of 18 and 16 yards, the second one a perfect fade route over Thorpe to Greg Childs, made the score 20-0 with 11:02 in the second quarter.
Auburn desperately needed to score on the following possession. The Tigers really needed a touchdown, but settled for a 37-yard field goal by Wes Byrum after moving the ball 44 yards on eight plays.
A 50-yard kickoff return put the Razorbacks in great field position again at the Tigers' 47. However, an interception by cornerback Walt McFadden at the two-yard line temporarily halted the Razorback scoring parade.
The Auburn offense got the football off the goal line, but punted it away and Arkansas put the Tigers in a deeper hole by driving 69 yards on eight plays to make the score 27-3 at intermission. The final five yards came on a five-yard pass to D.J. Williams, who caught the ball in the flat after a good play-action fake.
The halftime statistics reflected just how one-sided the game was. Auburn had just 40 rushing yards on 13 carries and the Tigers had 68 passing yards as Chris Todd was 9-19 and Kodi Burns mis-fired on his only pass attempt.
Arkansas hurt the Tigers with both the run and pass. With Smith netting 101 yards on 14 carries, the Razorbacks gained 120 first half yards on the ground in the first two quarters on 20 plays.
Ryan Mallett completed 15-22 passes for 154 yards vs. the Tigers with two touchdowns and one interception. For the game he hit 24-37 for 274 yards with two TDs and one pick.
Quarterback Ryan Mallett was sacked just once on Saturday.
As poorly as the Tigers played in the first 30 minutes, Auburn had plenty of time to make a comeback with its quick-strike capabilities on offense. After a three-and-out by the Razorbacks to open the third period, Auburn raced down the field and had a great opportunity to score its first touchdown.
Tate rushed for nine yards to open the drive and then Todd hooked up with Quindarius Carr for 32 yards. Tate then ran for 21 yards to the Arkansas eight. From there he ran for five to the three and on the next play, with a hole plenty big enough to score, the tailback dropped the handoff from Todd and Arkansas recovered at the five.
The Tigers needed a defensive stand, but didn't get one as the Razorbacks drove 95 yards on 10 plays with the help of a third down pass interference penalty on Craig Stevens to keep the drive alive. Mallett ran up the middle for the score from three yards out on first and goal to put the home team up 34-3 with 7:56 left in the third.
Auburn finally got that touchdown on the next possession. The Tigers moved 67 yards on eight plays with the big gainer a 28-yard run by Tate, who scored from a yard out.
After a three and out for the Razorbacks, Auburn stunned the crowd and cut the gap to 34-16 as Tate ran around right end for a 60-yard touchdown on a one-play scoring possession. With 3:52 left in the third quater, the Tigers tried to hit a two-point conversion, but a Todd pass was incomplete.
After a touchback on the kickoff, Arkansas hit a 31-yard pass to Cobi Hamilton to the Tiger 49, but the Auburn defense stiffened and got the ball back on downs at the 34 after Mike Blanc led a pack of tacklers who nailed running back Ronnie Wingo for a yard loss.
The Tigers' rejuvenated Auburn offense took just three plays to score another touchdown. On first down, Terrell Zachery raced 60 yards on a reverse to the Arkansas six. Tate ran for three up the middle and on the next play Onterio McCalebb, who re-injured his sore ankle earlier in the game on a kickoff return, took a pitch from Todd and scored from three yards out. Byrum's PAT cut the gap to 34-23 with nine seconds left in the third quarter, plenty of time for Auburn to pull off the big comeback.
However, the kicking game failed miserably as Dennis Johnson escaped would-be tacklers around his own 20 and wasn't stopped until kicker Morgan Hull ran him out of bounds at the Auburn 30.
If the Tigers could hold the Razorbacks to just a field goal, the damage would be minimal, but the defense failed. It took seven plays for the home team to stretch the lead to 41-23 with 11:22.
Auburn's last hope for a comeback ended on the next possession. On fourth down and inches to go from their own 32, the Tigers came up short on a quarterback sneak as Todd juggled the exchange and lost a yard on the plays.
Arkansas added an insurance field goal with with 4:20 left to make the final score 44-23.