That felt good, didn’t it?
Arkansas (2-4, 1-2) emphatically turned the page on one of the ugliest months in program history by pulverizing the homestanding Auburn Tigers 24-7 Saturday before a crowd of 85,813 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The Hogs surprisingly did so behind a much-maligned defense that had been helpless for most of the season before rising up to tally 5 turnovers and 8 sacks on Saturday against Auburn (1-4, 0-3).
Those are overwhelming single-game numbers for any defense, but had to be particularly satisfying for a crew that doubled its previous season totals (2 turnovers, 8 sacks) in both categories a week after giving up 58 points and 716 total yards to Texas A&M.
It was Arkansas’ 4th win in its last 5 meetings with Auburn.
The Razorbacks’ lone loss to the Tigers in that span was Auburn’s controversial, 65-43 shootout win in 2010 in which Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson came into the game in relief of injured starter Ryan Mallett and threw for 332 yards and 3 TDs in less than 2 1/2 quarters of action.
What We Saw
–Arkansas benefitted from another poor performance by Auburn quarterback and Springdale, Arkansas, (Shiloh Christian) product Kiehl Frazier. Frazier was benched at halftime and has quickly gone from “Must Have/Can’t Miss 5-star QB prospect” to Tight End-in waiting in the span of 16 career games played.
Frazier’s numbers Saturday–9 for 14, 118 yards passing, 1 interception–weren’t awful on their face, particularly for a QB who is averaging 133 yards/game passing while completing just 54% of his attempts.
But, Frazier’s statistics belied his performance, which featured “happy feet” and a tendency to hold on to the ball far too long. To be fair, Frazier didn’t have much of a chance. Auburn’s porous offensive line would have spelled trouble for any quarterback in America.
Clint Moseley took over for Frazier and was a bit better (13-21 163 yards, 1 TD 2 Ints.), thanks in large part to 1 of the few coverage busts on the day for Arkansas. Whatever Moseley added in terms of a quicker trigger he gave back with slower feet, though. Moseley was a sitting duck, and Arkansas sophomore defensive end Trey Flowers (3.5 sacks) and company took advantage.
–For the first time all season, Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes gave his defensive ends the green light to come after the quarterback, and also dialed up frequent blitzes.
With an inexperienced and banged up secondary, Haynes has often been wary of mobile opposing quarterbacks this season and has been reticent to call many blitzes or let his ends pin their ears back and rush the passer.
On Saturday, undoubtedly emboldened by Auburn’s shoddy offensive line and quarterback play, Haynes was aggressive and unpredictable. The result was a dominating defensive performance for a team that had been outscored 110-10 in its first 2 SEC games.
–UA Senior linebacker Terrell Williams–a relative non-factor for most of his career–racked up a career-high 12 tackles and also had a sack. Another Arkansas senior, the often-ridiculed Ross Rasner, also had a very productive day with 10 tackles, a forced fumbled and an interception on a perfectly defended pass in the end zone.
What We Didn’t See
–The hesitancy with which Arkansas’ defense had played for much of the 2012 season was gone Saturday.
But for a blown coverage that allowed Moseley to hit wide receiver Emory Blake for a wide open, 21-yard touchdown pass for Auburn’s only score, the Hogs played solid defensive football and knew their assignments Saturday.
Auburn’s limited playbook and even more limited quarterbacks did not present the same matchup problems that more complex, skilled offenses have this season and it showed.
–Plagued by turnover problems and overall ineffectiveness since returning from an injury that cost him the entire 2011 season, Arkansas’ former All-SEC runningback, Knile Davis, didn’t get many opportunities Saturday. Knile carried the ball just 3 times for a total -4 yards.
Arkansas senior runningback Dennis Johnson has been the better back thus far in 2012 and he was rewarded for his efforts with 17 carries on Saturday. Johnson churned out 76 yards and 2 rushing TDs. DJ’s previous high this season was 7 rushing attempts and he had only 27 total carries in the Hogs’ first 5 games.
More surprising than Johnson’s increased role was the fact that UA true freshman runningback Jonathan Williams (6 carries, 34 yards, 1 fumble) was given twice as many carries as Davis.
What You May Not Have Seen
–Arkansas Offensive Coordinator Paul Petrino and the rest of the Hogs’ offensive staff did a good job of self-scouting last week. Petrino has had a tendency in short-yardage situations this season to call strong-side runs from tight, bunched formations.
Petrino adjusted Saturday and called several play action, bootleg passes that allowed Wilson to get outside the pocket and make things happen with his legs and his arm. Arkansas’ play-action passes typically come out of the shotgun (faking a draw play).
–One of those calls turned out to be a key play in the win. After picking up a first down for the first time in more than a quarter and needing to answer Auburn’s touchdown that made the score 10-7, Petrino dialed up a play-action pass on the 2nd play of the 4th quarter on 1st and 10 from his own 38-yard line.
After taking the snap, turning his back to the line of scrimmage and faking a handoff to Johnson, Wilson deftly eluded Auburn’s 6’4, 246-lb All-SEC defensive end Corey Lemonier and side-armed a pass on target to tight end Austin Tate, who picked up 18 yards for a 1st down at the Auburn 44.
Wilson’s sleight of hand was the difference in backup quarterback-turned wide receiver Brandon Mitchell zipping a reverse-pass TD to fellow wide receiver Jevontee Herndon two plays later and Arkansas losing a turnover or facing 2nd and 18 from its own 30-yard line with the real possibility of giving Auburn the ball back with momentum and favorable field position (and the Hogs starting to think they were again going to be snakebitten).
–Tate doesn’t have the hands or the speed of injured Arkansas starting tight end Chris Gragg, but if he can be a serviceable target for Wilson, as he was Saturday (4 catches, 44 yards) the Hogs’ offense will have more balance than it has had without Gragg.
–Morgan Linton, a 5’11, 240 lb walk-on fullback from Lonoke, Arkansas, led the way on both of Johnson’s touchdown runs and appears to be capable of putting some of the thump back into Arkansas’ Red Zone offense. Arkansas lost starting fullback Kiero Small and backup Kodi Walker to season-ending injuries early in the season and has struggled mightily when trying to run the ball in the Red Zone in their absence.
What We Hope to See Next Week
While he didn’t nab any of Arkansas’ 5 forced turnovers and he only had a few tackles, starting safety Eric Bennett returned from injury and provided some much-needed stability to the Razorbacks’ secondary on Saturday.
Hopefully starting cornerback Tevin Mitchel (no typo) can play next Saturday for the the first time since suffering a frightening injury versus Louisiana-Monroe in the 2nd game of the season. Mitchel practiced on a limited basis last week.
If he and senior cornerback Kaelon Kelleybrew (concussion) are able to return this week, the Razorbacks’ secondary figures to continue to improve against another generally punchless offense (Kentucky).
Arkansas rue freshman cornerback Will Hines has taken some major lumps, but showed well Saturday with a very nice play on a Frazier overthrow for an interception, as well as the recovery of Arkansas’ first forced turnover (a fumble caused by Rasner) in a month.
Hines has the skill set to be a good player in time, but he will be better served by being allowed to progress slowly. Injuries and underperformance forced him into the fire too soon and he was exposed earlier in the season.
–Arkansas needs to get an early lead and take the opportunity to try to jump start Knile Davis. Davis is one of the team’s core players and is a very talented back who deserves to go out on a better note than he is at this point.
Yes, I know that Davis could come back for the 2013 season if he chose to, but with a long list of injuries and a resume’ and measurables that will draw plenty of interest from NFL teams, this is likely Davis’ last season as a Hog.
He has overcome plenty of obstacles and has been a great Razorback and role model. It would be nice to see Davis and his team turn things around and finish the season on a high note. For now, though, it’s just fun to enjoy a convincing, somewhat unexpected SEC road win.