Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Like it is:
Hogs in it to win it before second-half slog
Arkansas tight end AJ Derby gets knocked out of bounds by Auburn's Jonathon Mincy in the second quarter of a game on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.
AUBURN, Ala. -- On Friday night in Montgomery, only Maxwell Street separated the Arkansas Razorbacks and Auburn Tigers.
The Hogs were housed in the Embassy Suites and across the street in the Renaissance was the Tigers.
On Saturday, the difference was speed, experience and depth.
It was the Gus Bus vs. Bret Ball and while most suspected Gus Malzahn was going to open up his passing game, people were still suspicious of Bred Bielema's offense.
Maybe not so much now. Auburn threw it 22 times -- completing 16 -- but Bret Ball showed some signs of working too, especially during a 21-point, 267-yard first half.
It was not overwhelming, but it wasn't underwhelming like a year ago.
It obviously wasn't enough to overcome the defending SEC champions, but it was enough to keep millions glued to their TVs for the second half and a sweating crowd in their seats, until a weather delay was announced early in the fourth quarter.
A second half when Nick Marshall's suspension ended and on his first possession of this season capped a 78-yard drive with a 19-yard sprint for a touchdown. Fresh legs on a Hades hot and humid day.
Marshall's run made it 28-21, but no one in orange or blue felt comfortable with a touchdown lead at that point.
Auburn led 21-7 less than three minutes into the second quarter. The Tigers had made it look easy, scoring on their first three possessions, totaling 248 yards on 20 plays. But the Razorbacks made something of a statement on their second possession, driving 75 yards on 6 plays, using 5 runs to set up the 14-yard play-action pass from Brandon Allen to Hunter Henry, who was all alone in the end zone.
The final 12 minutes of the second quarter showed Arkansas' improvement from a year ago. And there were a few glimpses in the second half, just not many.
Instead of playing to survive, the Razorbacks attacked on offense with a gritty determination that kept the Auburn defense off balance with traps, sweeps and play action.
A year ago the Razorbacks might have gone into half eyeing the buses that would take them far away from the mess, but Saturday they showed discipline and dedication.
They didn't show a lot of speed on defense, something Bielema has to address, but they showed guts on both sides of the ball. The offense put together a second touchdown drive of 75 yards and then went 93 yards on a 10-play drive that took 5:06 and the Hogs went into the dressing room tied at 21-21.
Arkansas was not thinking upset, they were trying to score one.
The Razorbacks believed they were good enough to come into Jordan-Hare Stadium and not get embarrassed in a tough environment at Pat Dye Field, where portraits of Heisman Trophy winners Pat Sullivan, Bob Jackson and Cam Newton hang in the south end zone.
They would not quit. They just lacked the depth and overall talent.
When Auburn jumped from its 11 to its 46 in two plays, JaMichael Winston got a sack and the defensive line got some pressure on Marshall and forced a bad pass.
The Tigers, though, slammed Brandon Allen as he was passing and the ball wobbled out of his hand. It was intercepted by Jermaine Whitehead, who went 33 yards for a pick six to make it 35-21, and Auburn added a field goal early in the fourth quarter when its drive was stuffed by the Hogs.
Then came the weather delay, which lasted 88 minutes and was supposed to empty the stadium, but much of the student section must not have heard.
Auburn, which came in as nearly 20-point favorites, was supposed to win.
It is still the better team, but even though the stats don't show it, this wasn't like last season when the Hogs seemed to be in it for a half and then had little left for the second half.
Arkansas isn't suddenly fixed, but it looked better than a year ago against a very good Auburn team.
Sports on 08/31/2014