ARKANSAS 25, NO. 20 AUBURN 22: Rising on the Plains

Razorbacks catch Tigers by surprise

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Sunday, October 12, 2008

AUBURN, Ala. - Arkansas' persistence in the face of adversity finally paid off Saturday.

The Razorbacks overcame special teams mistakes, two long interception returns and a 10-point second-half deficit to hand Auburn a 25-22 defeat before a disgruntled Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd of 85,782.

Arkansas (3-3, 1-2) had lost its past three games by a school record 108 points, but the Hogs brought the fight to the 20thranked Tigers (4-3, 2-3) from the opening kickoff, dominating in total yardage (416-193) and controlling the lines of scrimmage.

"It sure makes you smile and feel good," Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino said after his first SEC victory.

Petrino exchanged hugs on the field with his parents, who were in from Montana, and dealt a severe blow to Tommy Tuberville, whose job security became a topic of discussion after the game, three days after Tuberville fired his offensive coordinator,Tony Franklin, in an effort to jump-start Auburn's offense.

Petrino, who was covertly courted by the Auburn brass late in the 2003 season, won his first head-to-head encounter with Tuberville. Auburn fans unleashed several rounds of boos during the second half, when Arkansas began to assert control and the Tigers offense flailed.

Tuberville was asked if he expected to be fired if the losing kept up.

"No, I don't think so," said Tuberville, in his 10th season on the Plains. "You have a lot of good years and then one bad year? I don't think about that. We've got five games left, that's what we're thinking about. I'll let the higher-ups worry about that."

The Razorbacks weren't concerned with Auburn's problems.

"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," said Arkansas quarterback Casey Dick, who shook off two interceptions by rushing for one touchdown and catching another from freshman receiver Joe Adams.

"We needed a win," Petrino said. "I can't say enough about our players not getting down and still coming to practice and working hard."

Junior tailback Michael Smith led the way with a career-high 176 rushing yards, including a 63-yard touchdown, on 35 carries.

"It's great to get a win, especially when you go on the road and you're playing a team like Auburn," Smith said. "Emotionally, we went from feeling down to a big high after this game."

The Razorbacks, playing what was easily their best defensive game of the season, extended an unlikely streak by winning as the road team for the fourth consecutive year in this series. The hometeam has lost six of the past seven games between these SEC West rivals.

Arkansas' defense, much maligned the past three weeks, collected three turnovers, including Matt Harris' diving interception on Auburn's final offensive play. Arkansas produced a goalline stand with less than two minutes remaining and held Auburn to two field goals after long interception returns into Arkansas territory. Adams and Dick, who combined for a third-quarter touchdown pass, both made touchdown-saving tackles after Dick's interceptions.

"I can't say enough about our assistant coaches and players, how hard they prepared and how hard they fought," Petrino said. "They showed a lot of character and a lot of leadership."

Arkansas shredded an Auburn defense that had been giving up only 249 yards per game and had been ranked second in the country in scoring defense at 11.2 points per game.

"We knew if we could get it close in the fourth quarter, we'd have a chance," Dick said. "The bottom line is we just went out there and outexecuted them."

Arkansas outgained an Auburn offense that relied heavily on sophomore quarterback Kodi Burns, 416-193.

"We didn't have a lot, obviously, on offense, and defensively we couldn't get off the field," Tuberville said. "It was just a tough night, a tough week overall."

The Razorbacks whipped out trick plays, rode Smith's 35-carry performance, and finally got the big-play score they had been missing. Most important, Arkansas relied on its strongest defensive effort of the season, led by end Adrian Davis, who had a sack, a forced fumble and an interception in the second half.

Adams had a 31-yard catch and run in the third quarter, and a left-handed touchdown pass to Dick on a double reverse pass.

"We have worked on it a long, long time and our players worked it to perfection," Petrino said.

Smith's 63-yard touchdown run, which included a cutback to elude Neiko Thorpe, came with 8:50 to play. That play put the Hogs up 25-20, but Dick's two-point conversion pass failed.

Burns led Auburn to a first down at the Arkansas 5, but the Tigers could not get into the end zone. Burns was stacked up for a 1-yard gain on first down, then overthrew two fade routes. On fourth down, Burns looked to pass, tucked the ball as if to run for a moment, then jumped and overthrew Eric Smith in the end zone. The game still wasn't over.

Arkansas could not get a first down but forced Auburn to use its remaining timeouts before going into punt formation. Petrino gave punter Jeremy Davis orders to take a safety, which made it 25-22 with 1:03 remaining.

"That was a little bit scary, letting them get within a field goal," Petrino said. "But we made them burn all their timeouts." The Tigers ran two plays after the free kick, an 8-yard gain by Burns, then an errant throw intercepted by a diving Harris.

"We struggled in every area," Tuberville said. "Things keep snowballing on us."

Sports, Pages 29, 40 on 10/12/2008