Matt Jones is the editor of the Hawgs Sports Network. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has a bachelor's and master's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas.
Razorbacks 'physically whipped' in 48-10 loss to Auburn
Auburn quarterback Payton Thorne (1) collides with Arkansas defensive back Lorando Johnson during a game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ bowl hopes were dashed Saturday with two games to play.
Auburn scored 21 points in the first quarter and never gave the Razorbacks any hope in a 48-10 victory at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The Tigers (6-4, 3-4 SEC) won their third consecutive SEC game and earned a postseason invitation in their first season under coach Hugh Freeze, who won in Fayetteville last November while coaching Liberty.
Arkansas (3-7, 1-6 SEC) lost its third consecutive home game and failed to capitalize on any momentum earned with last week’s overtime victory at Florida. The Razorbacks are guaranteed to have a losing record for the first time since 2020.
“I thought we played our most complete game of the year against a team that I thought played their best last week," said Freeze, who improved to 4-3 during his career against Arkansas.
The game was never in doubt.
Auburn quarterback Payton Thorne led touchdown drives of 75 and 56 yards sandwiched around a 74-yard punt return touchdown by Keionte Scott to give the Tigers a 21-0 lead with 6:28 remaining in the first quarter.
Thorne’s 12-yard touchdown run capped a six-play march after Auburn received the opening kickoff. Thorne had a pair of 8-yard runs on the drive, including on third-and-3 from the Arkansas 20, and completed a 45-yard pass to Caleb Burton on the Tigers’ third play.
Scott’s punt return followed a three-and-out by Arkansas’ offense. Arkansas punter Max Fletcher out kicked his coverage and Scott had an obstructed run to the end zone.
Another three-and-out and a shanked punt by Fletcher gave the Tigers possession at their own 44. Thorne passed 27 yards to Ja’Varrius Johnson to the Arkansas 18, and hit Rivaldo Fairweather an 11-yard touchdown moments later on third down.
That made the score Auburn 21, Arkansas 0.
"I’d say the momentum was definitely in their direction, but it’s not like on the sideline we were hanging our heads or anything," said Arkansas receiver Isaac TeSlaa, who had 32 yards on three receptions and scored the team's only touchdown. "We fully expected we were going to go out there and start a comeback."
The Razorbacks couldn’t even capitalize on breaks that went their way. It appeared Arkansas cornerback Dwight McGlothern might return a first-quarter interception for a touchdown, but he was tackled by Auburn left tackle Dillon Wade at the Tigers’ 22 following a 42-yard return.
Arkansas gained two yards in great field position and had to settle for a 39-yard field goal by Cam Little, who was named a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award earlier in the week. He has made 17 of 19 field goals this season.
“When we had a turnover, that’s a win holding them to a field goal," Freeze said. "I thought that was a big series in the game, too.”
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman was disappointed in the offensive execution following the interception.
"They just physically whipped us in all phases of the game," he said.
"I thought we were coming off a good week, had a really good week of practice, but we got dominated today and we have to go back to work and figure out why."
The Razorbacks made it onto the Auburn side of the field twice in the second quarter but punted both times.
Alex McPherson kicked a pair of field goals from 39 and 31 yards late in the second quarter to give the Tigers a 27-3 lead at halftime.
McPherson’s second field goal of the quarter followed a fumble by Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson, who was strip-sacked by Jalen McLeod. Marcus Harris recovered the ball at the Arkansas 27 with 21 seconds left in the half.
Auburn tacked on three more touchdowns in the third quarter. Thorne threw touchdown passes for 14 yards to Johnson and 11 yards to Fairweather, and Brian Battie ran for a 7-yard touchdown to give the Tigers a 48-3 lead.
Fairweather’s second touchdown reception came one play following a 74-yard return by Zion Puckett, who recovered a fumble by Arkansas running back Raheim Sanders at the Auburn 15. Receiver Andrew Armstrong chased him down to prevent the Tigers from scoring their third defensive touchdown of the season.
Arkansas pulled Jefferson late in the third quarter. His backup, Jacolby Criswell, infused some life into the offense with a 60-yard quarterback keeper on the first play of the fourth quarter. He threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to TeSlaa on the next play.
That was the Razorbacks’ first offensive touchdown at home since the third quarter of a Sept. 16 game against BYU. Arkansas was held out of the end zone in its last home game against Mississippi State on Oct. 21.
Criswell played for the first time since the season-opening game against Western Carolina.
"The bottom line is it was seven minutes left in the third quarter and we're down 41-3," Pittman said. "KJ was bloodied up a little bit and I wanted to see what Jacolby could do."
The Tigers out-gained the Razorbacks 517-255. Auburn rushed for a season-high 354 yards on 55 attempts for a per-carry average of 6.4 yards.
"We couldn't handle the edge on defense," Pittman said. "We tried different things out there, but any time they wanted to get on the edge, we couldn't handle the run. We didn't tackle well."
Thorne played perhaps his best game at Auburn by completing 12 of 20 passes for 163 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also rushed 12 times for 88 yards and a touchdown.
Running back Jarquez Hunter added 109 rushing yards on 16 attempts.
Jefferson completed 10 of 16 passes for 116 yards. He was sacked four times before halftime, part of a five-sack performance for the Auburn defense. When adjusted for sacks, Jefferson rushed 11 times for 82 yards.
The two Arkansas quarterbacks accounted for 114 of the team’s 120 rushing yards. Running backs AJ Green, Rashod Dubinon and Sanders combined for 6 yards on 11 carries, and Sanders was held with any rushing yards in 8 attempts.
Auburn’s defense entered the game allowing the SEC’s third-highest per-game rushing average of 154.2 yards.
"We went back to where the protection wasn't any good," Pittman said. "We gave up five sacks, couldn't run the ball, got stymied running the football.
"We haven't been in this situation, but we were in it today. We fought and tried to get out of it. We just never did."
The Tigers won their fourth consecutive game in Fayetteville with their third head coach. Auburn’s average margin of victory in those games was 31.5 points.
Arkansas is scheduled to host Florida International next Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and will conclude the season the following Friday with a home game against Missouri.
The Razorbacks have lost three in a row at home to BYU, Mississippi State and Auburn teams that had a combined record of 14-13 coming into the day.
"I think, for whatever reason, we didn't play with a lot of energy, it looked to me like," Pittman said when asked why the team played poorly at home. "Maybe [Auburn] sucked it out of us fast, but that's not what a good or well-coached team does.
"I think one of our main goals this week was to perform for [the home crowd, announced at 72,033] because they have been sticking with us and been out there like they did. I'm really very happy that they came out and supported us again and very disappointed that we couldn't do a much better job than we did."
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