As the Auburn Tigers and Arkansas Razorbacks enter this week’s game with momentum behind them, an old-fashioned dog fight was scheduled to take place Saturday inside the walls of the University’s Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Arkansas.
Instead, it was an onslaught as the Tigers played their best game away from Jordan-Hare Stadium and punched their ticket to bowl eligibility in a dominant 48-10 victory over the Razorbacks.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s win in Fayetteville.
Auburn gets off to a dream start
Having not played very well in a true road game this season, there was concern that Auburn would come up flat on the road against Arkansas on Saturday afternoon.
Instead, the Tigers did the exact opposite.
After getting the ball first to start the game, Payton Thorne and the Auburn offense quickly put together a 75-yard score in just six plays. The highlight of the drive was a 45-yard connection between Thorne and Caleb Burton on the Tigers’ second snap from scrimmage.
Auburn then polished off its opening drive with two scores from Thorne, including a 12-yard touchdown run to put the Tigers ahead 7-0.
Less than two minutes later, the Tigers found the end zone again – this time thanks to a 74-yard punt return touchdown from Keionte Scott, who, as a reminder, underwent tightrope surgery on his ankle less than two months ago.
The next time Thorne and the Tigers had the ball, they drove 56 yards down the field on another six-play drive that ended with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Thorne to the tight end closer Rivaldo Fairweather. This play was the first of two scoring plays between Thorne and Fairweather as the tandem combined for another touchdown in the third quarter.
In just over half a quarter, Auburn had built a 21-point lead over Arkansas, erasing any fears of a slow start.
In fact, the Tigers’ 21 points in the first quarter were the most they had scored against an SEC opponent since the 2017 game against Mississippi State.
Tigers defense stifles KJ Jefferson and Razorbacks offense
The Hogs couldn’t believe they put up 39 points and 481 yards of offense against the Florida Gators last week in Gainesville.
In the first half of Saturday afternoon’s game, the Arkansas offense mustered just 24 yards of offense in the first quarter and 86 yards of offense in the second quarter, totaling 110 yards in the first half compared to 277 yards in the first half for Auburn.
Meanwhile, Auburn’s defense forced Arkansas into three-pointers in each of the Razorbacks’ first three possessions.
The Razorbacks’ first momentum came thanks to Thorne throwing an interception to Dwight McGothern, who returned it 42 yards to the Auburn 22-yard line. From there, Jefferson and the Arkansas offense were able to move the ball just two yards in the right direction before having to settle for a 39-yard field goal to give the Razorbacks their first points of the game.
Jefferson and the Arkansas offense didn’t move the chains until the second quarter, when they were forced to punt on 4th-and-1 from their own 24-yard line. Jefferson eventually took the lead for an eight-yard gain to give the Razorbacks their first new series of downs of the afternoon.
During the second and third quarters, the Auburn defense’s trend of forcing turnovers continued as Auburn’s Jalen McLeod forced a fumble that was recovered by Marcus Harris in the second quarter, followed by Zion Puckett forcing a fumble that was recovered by Caleb Wooden in the third quarter. . Wooden then returned the fumble 74 yards to the Arkansas 11-yard line, where it took just one play for the Auburn offense to add a touchdown to its lead.
Through three quarters, Arkansas’ offense averaged just 3.9 yards per play and just 2 yards per carry. The Razorbacks were also just 1 of 11 on third-down conversions.
The Hogs finished the game averaging 5 yards per play, 3.8 yards per carry and 1 of 12 on third down conversions.
Meanwhile, Jefferson went 10-of-16 passing for just 116 yards and added just 50 yards with his legs on 15 attempts, averaging just 3.33 yards per game. Against the Gators last week, Jefferson passed for 255 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 92 yards rushing and a 25-yard touchdown run with his legs.
Jalen McLeod helps Auburn dominate in the trenches
As of Saturday afternoon, Auburn Jack linebacker Jalen McLeod hadn’t made more than four tackles and two tackles for a loss in a single game all season.
Against the Razorbacks, McLeod doubled those marks by recording a total of nine total tackles and four tackles for a loss.
McLeod was also responsible for three sacks Saturday, a testament in any game, but especially in a game where the opposing quarterback is 6-foot-3 and weighs less than 250 pounds, like Jefferson.
And while McLeod led the charge against the Razorbacks, he wasn’t alone as defensive lineman Marcus Harris added three tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Auburn’s defense combined for eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage and five sacks.
On the other side of the field, Auburn’s offensive line held strong against Arkansas after a week in which Hugh Freeze criticized the Tigers’ protection against Vanderbilt last Saturday.
The Razorbacks only managed two tackles for a loss against the Tigers and took Thorne to the turf once. Arkansas also wasn’t credited with a single quarterback hurry on Saturday.