AUBURN, Ala. – For the past three games against Associated Press top 25 teams, the Arkansas Razorbacks were unable to take a contest in to the fourth quarter.
In its fourth straight AP top 25 game, the Razorbacks not only got to the last 15 minutes, they dominated the 20th-ranked Auburn Tigers for a 25-22 victory at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The win was the first Southeastern Conference victory for head coach Bobby Petrino as Arkansas moved to 3-3 on the season, 1-2 in league play. The loss dropped Auburn to 4-3 on the season, 2-3 in SEC games.
Senior running back Michael Smith carried the ball 35 times for 176 yards and one touchdown, and senior quarterback Casey Dick scored twice with 17 of 32 for 222 yards.
"“It was a great football game," Petrino said. "They made plays, we made plays. Our players really stepped up and executed and played with a lot of heart. It was very hard fought, we hung on and won the game at the end."
Arkansas controlled the game statistically with an almost two-to-one advantage in time of possession and 428 total yards to only 185 for the Tigers.
"Defensively, we couldn’t get off the field," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "They did an excellent job. You can’t take anything away from them."
The Tigers benefited from Arkansas mistakes early, but the emergence of a balanced, grind-it-out offense from the Razorbacks carried the day.
Arkansas had three touchdown drives of 80-yards or more during the game, while the Tigers scored only one touchdown with its offense.
Smith had the game winner as the senior cut back twice on the Tigers, winning a foot race to the end zone for the longest touchdown run of the season for 62 yards. The Razorbacks went for two, but the catch by Greg Childs was just outside of the end zone, to leave the score 25-20.
"He hit a homerun, and that was really great," Petrino said. "He showed a tremendous amount of poise and had a lot of carries; 21 in the first half. He breaks a long run for a touchdown, that was very well blocked, and he made a great cut. Taking all of those carries he showed great toughness. He’s very quick and doesn’t take a lot of big hits. He’s very good at slipping and sliding."
“I don’t think I have ever been more happy of a group of guys in my life," Dick said. "We have been through a lot in the last couple of games and it’s easy to see how we have gotten a lot better. We’ve grown as a team. We came out and executed well. We knew if we could get the ball in the fourth quarter, in a close game we would have a chance. The bottom line, we just went out there and executed, had fun and stuck together."
The Razorback defense yielded long plays, but stiffened inside the Arkansas red zone twice in the closing minutes. The dramatic game sealing stand came after Burns moved the Tigers to the Arkansas 15-yard line with less than three minutes left. Burns got Auburn to the six, but the comeback drive stalled as the Razorbacks held on four downs to insure the victory.
"The defense has really stepped up all together," nose guard Zach Stradther said. "Everybody did their job and I was happy with the way that we played. Honestly, I was a little surprised at how well the defense played, but we work hard every play and give 100% every time we step on the field."
Arkansas took a safety with just over one minute left, then punted away to the Tigers for one last chance with 56 seconds left. The drive was snuffed by an interception by Matt Harris.
Trailing in the early second half, Arkansas’ Adrian Davis turned the momentum on the final play of the third quarter. The defensive end stepped up to pick-off a throwaway attempt by Auburn’s Chris Todd. Davis returned the interception to the Tiger 23-yard line. Shay Haddock picked up his second field goal of the game, a 44-yarder, to cut the spread to one, 20-19, with 14:07 left to play.
Auburn tried to regain control behind Burns. The Fort Smith, Ark., product started the game, and had returned to pass to Tommy Trott for 33 yards put the Tigers on the Razorback 21, but the Arkansas defense stalled Auburn’s drive which ended in a Wes Byrum field goal miss.
A 31-yard catch by Joe Adams keyed Arkansas drive, then Adams returned the favor with a reverse pass to Dick for a six-yard touchdown. It capped a nine-play, 62-yard drive, but a blocked point after attempt made the score 20-14 with 3:02 left in the third.
Special teams mistakes by the Razorbacks provided Auburn with both of its touchdowns. The first came on coverage as Arkansas allowed Tristan Davis a 97-yard touchdown in the first quarter. The next was the result of a fumbled kickoff that set the Tigers up for a 24-yard touchdown drive.
Arkansas dominated the first half statistically, but trailed 13-10 at halftime. The second half opened with Dennis Johnson fumbling the opening kickoff. Auburn covered at the Arkansas 24 yard line. Burnes carried it in from three yards out to give the Tigers their first offensive touchdown of the day and a 20-10 lead.
Razorbacks took their opening drive the length of the field to score first. The 13-play drive culminated with a 28-yard field goal by Shay Haddock. The 3-0 start was the first time this season for Arkansas to score first.
The advantage didn’t last long as the Tigers’ Tristan Davis returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards to regain the early lead, 7-3.
Pinned deep in its own end of the field, Arkansas opened from the four yard line with a pair of clutch runs by Smith. His dash to the marker at the 14 kept the drive moving, and his 41-yard run put the Razorbacks in Auburn territory. From the Auburn 30, Neiko Thorpe intercepted Dick, and a 59-yard interception return led to a 45-yard field goal from Wes Byrum.
Arkansas took the kickoff on its own 20 and marched the length of the field a second time. The 11-play drive featured two clutch plays from Dick
Early in the drive, Dick went deep for Childs, and the 39-yard reception set the Razorbacks up 1st and 10 at the Auburn 24.
Arkansas moved the ball inside the five, but Smith was unable to get into the end zone on three tries. On fourth down, Dick faked the handoff right to Smith, and broke left across the grain for the one-yard run to tie the game at 10-10.
The back-and-forth first half saw Auburn put together its first sustained drive of the game, taking the ball inside the Razorback 20 before Wendell Davis’ interception of Cody Burns ended the Tiger drive.
Bynes pulled a ricochet out of the air to put Auburn back onto Arkansas’ end of the field at the close of the first half with a field goal by Byrum to regain the lead by half, 13-10.