Auburn offense repeats last year’s performance vs. Hogs

Posted: October 22, 2017 at 1 a.m.

Auburn's Darius Slayton (81) drags an Arkansas defender Saturday at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Auburn’s offensive blitzkrieg was more balanced than last year. In the end, it was almost the same.

After giving up 632 total yards last year, the Arkansas defense gave up 629. This time it was split. The Tigers made 345 on the ground, 284 passing.

In a week that Arkansas coach Bret Bielema talked about up-tempo, Gus Malzahn’s Tigers were up, up and away with tempo. The Hogs were confused on Auburn’s first touchdown of the game, trying to play with just nine, one of whom was laying on the ground.

The No. 21 Tigers scored five second-half touchdowns in a total elapsed time of just 8:32 to roll past Arkansas, 52-20, on Saturday night at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

There was a hint of resistance from the Arkansas defense in the first half, something that was missing last year when the then No. 17 Razorbacks fell behind 28-0. This time, they became the first team to stop the Tigers in the red zone with a goal line stand.

There was also a Kevin Richardson interception to give the Hogs another defensive highlight in the first half. There were almost none in the second half.

Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham opened the game throwing. He was incomplete on a toss to the flat. He didn’t miss many after that.

Auburn scored on five of their first seven tries in the second half. If you blinked, you could have missed almost any of them. Here’s the horrific summary of the TD drives:

• 10 plays, 75 yards, 2:50.

• 4 plays, 70 yards, 1:35.

• 1 play, 62 yards, 0:11.

• 3 plays, 23 yards, 0:28.

• 6 plays, 80, 2:54.

The Arkansas offensive highlights were few. There was 171 rushing, but much of it was on line plunges in the second half when the Tigers were in a pass-rush mode. They sacked quarterback Cole Kelley six times, stripping him of the ball three times. Two went for turnovers, the third bouncing out of bounds.

It was a night when Bielema was asked about his job security and so were his players. They all answered with positive thoughts.

Asked if he expected to be back (for a sixth season), Bielema said, “Yeah. It’s unchartered water. I’ve never seen 2-5. I worry about the day in front of me. I’ll do the job in front of me. I know how close we are.”

Richardson, senior captain, said, “We can’t do anything but support our coach. We know the speculation on the outside world. We are behind him 100 percent.”

Bielema thanked the fans for a “live” atmosphere. He added, “We didn’t give them any reason to sustain it.”

Among the Arkansas positives was a 100-yard kickoff return by true freshman De’Vion Warren. That was the first touchdown for the Hogs, at the 3:57 mark in the second half. Devwah Whaley got the game’s final touchdown, a 2-yard run that finished a 13-play, 75-yard march, the only offensive touchdown for the Hogs.

The Hogs were holding their own late in the first half when a botched punt gave the Tigers a short field. Auburn went 41 yards in just seven plays converting third down at the 2-yard line on Kerryon Johnson’s sweep.

The Hogs did respond. Chase Hayden made 40 yards on a draw. David Williams broke another draw for 16. That set up Connor Limpert’s 38-yard field goal with 40 seconds left in the half.

“I liked the look in their eyes at halftime,” Bielema said. “They scored on their first drive and we didn’t respond. Our tackling was sloppy.”

Richardson said, “We knew what they were trying to do, run the ball. They run the ball. We have to tackle better. That’s in the open field and inside the box.”

Quarterback Cole Kelley said he wasn’t sure what happened on the sacks.

“I will see the film and then I’ll know whether I should have stepped up more or what,” he said. “What did I do, fumble two or three times. I knew job security was important. It’s unacceptable. I have to hold onto the ball.”

Asked about pressure on the head coach, Kelley said, “I’m very confident in our coaches. He’s a great coach. He can’t play the games for us. We have to work hard to get out of the slump.”

There were questions about the rest of the season. Kelley said it’s not about the rest of the season, just next week’s trip to Ole Miss.

“Our goal, I think, and at least for me, is to just try to win the next game,” Kelley said.

Whether or not Austin Allen returns is not certain. Bielema said Allen, out two games with an injured shoulder, did throw some this week.

“Yeah, he did,” Bielema said, then clarified that his throwing motion is full range.

“Now he has to get the strength back,” Bielema said. “But he’s at his closest to being back since the injury.”

The Hogs shuffled the offensive line again, with Frank Ragnow returning to center. Paul Ramirez started at left tackle, but was benched to start the second half after a rash of penalties. Johnny Gibson is battling a knee problem, but started at right guard.

On protection issues, Bielema said, “I wish we had healthy numbers in the line. Johnny didn’t practice much this week. We are trying to find our best five.”

The injury list got longer. Hayden left with what Bielema termed a “lower leg injury” and could be lost for “a significant time.” Fullback Kendrick Jackson missed the game following the Thursday death of his mother.

Bielema was asked about hope for the future.

“Everybody just has to do their job, starting with me,” he said. “Whether you are 7-0, or whatever, the only thing you can do is try to get better every day.”

Clay Henry can be reached at chenry@nwadg.com .