AUBURN, Ala. — No putting any lipstick on this pig: Auburn’s season is in freefall.
A previously overmatched Arkansas defense played the part of a top-tier SEC defense with five takeaways and eight sacks, while the dormant Tigers’ offense bumbled again in a 24-7 defeat Saturday. A majority of 85,813 spectators streamed for the Jordan-Hare Stadium exits midway through another miserable fourth quarter.
“You saw the game,” said Auburn head coach Gene Chizik, addressing reporters and, by virtue, the fans. “Offensively, one of the poorest performances I have seen in a long time, just point blank … I think you can start with turnovers and sacks – I don’t have to go any further than that. The offense has regressed.”
Two weeks to prepare did Auburn (1-4, 0-3 SEC) little good, as bowl hopes continued to dwindle. This is Auburn’s worst overall and conference start since 1998, when coach Terry Bowden departed after six games and the Tigers finished 3-8.
“The bottom line is,” Chizik said, “the Auburn fans and the Auburn family did not deserve this today, and I apologize to anybody who came to the game to watch it.”
Arkansas (2-4, 1-2), snapping a four-game losing streak and beating its first FBS opponent, had just seven sacks and two turnovers in its first five games – none in two cracks at SEC competition.
“Our defensive plan was to bring some pressure, bring some heat, and we didn’t vary from that,” Razorbacks coach John L. Smith said. “(Defensive coordinator) Coach (Paul) Haynes did a good job of saying, ‘Don’t let me get conservative. Keep me going.’”
The Tigers gave junior backup quarterback Clint Moseley his first chance after halftime, relieving sophomore Kiehl Frazier of his duties at least temporarily. No matter who was taking snaps, they combined to put up just seven points after Arkansas had allowed 40.8 points per game entering the weekend.
Even the one touchdown wasn’t pretty, when Moseley found senior wide receiver Emory Blake wide-open in failed coverage for a 21-yard score. Moseley threw low to Blake, who had to sidestep the sideline and reach across the pylon for Auburn’s only points. The touchdown stood when instant replay was inconclusive.
What was clear as the autumn sky Saturday is Auburn has another heaping pile of problems to fix offensively. Frazier and Moseley were each sacked four times for a combined 80 yards.
“We didn’t play as a group today,” right guard Chad Slade said. “The communication was terrible. As a unit, this is the worst game we’ve played so far.”
Added Blake: “Defense played pretty well, and we didn’t do our job.”
Moseley was 13-for-21 with 163 yards with the Blake TD and two picks. Frazier was 9-of-14 for 118 yards with an interception, and Auburn’s starter the first five games took the halftime removal reasonably well, according to Chizik.
“We didn’t put up any points,” Frazier said. “We moved the ball pretty well, but if you don’t score points, you can’t win. I got sacked a few times and got us out of field goal range.”
Following Blake’s score, Arkansas responded with a trick play. Wide receiver Brandon Mitchell took the ball from quarterback Tyler Wilson on an end around, backing off and tossing to Javontee Herndon in the corner of the end zone for 26 yards and a 17-7 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Blake caught 10 passes for 118 yards in a statistically breakout game. Freshman running back Mike Blakely led Auburn with 38 yards on the ground, but his second costly fumble in three games gave Arkansas the ball back, instigating many orange-clad fans to beat the traffic with 11 minutes remaining.
“I didn’t see fans leave, but I don’t blame them,” Chizik said. “I don’t look in the stands, so I don’t know about all of that.”
Razorbacks running back Dennis Johnson (17 rushes, 76 yards) added his second short-yardage touchdown on the ensuing drive. The Tigers have now been outscored 45-3 in the fourth quarter this year.
“It’s so easy to take the easy way out – a lot of naysayers and negative talk,” Moseley said. “It’s really hard to be a man about it and own up to everything. That’s what the leaders on this team have to do.”
Wilson completed 20-of-27 passes for 216 yards, and top wide receiver Cobi Hamilton caught five balls for 72 yards.
Auburn goes back on the road next week to Ole Miss, with kickoff at noon ET in a game televised by SEC Network.