After a chaotic final few minutes, Auburn emerged victorious 30-28 over Arkansas in Jordan-Hare Stadium. The beginning of the game was a bit of a slog as remnants of Hurricane Delta moved through East Alabama, dumping several inches of rain along the way. In the first half especially, the weather conditions made it difficult for players to throw, catch or even run as effectively as normal
As the game wore on, the Razorbacks, led by quarterback Feleipe Franks and running back Trelon Smith, roared back to overcome a 17-point deficit and take the lead 28-27 with 5:29 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. What transpired over the remaining time to play was a fascinating mixture of interesting coaching decisions, a few player miscues, errant referee whistles and ultimately three Auburn points that sealed the Tiger’s win.
Today, we take a closer look at three numbers, two notes and a quote that shed more light on exactly what happened in Auburn’s second win of the 2020 season.
Auburn defensive back Jordyn Peters has blocked four kicks in his career at Auburn. The senior from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, is primarily a key back up on defense, but has been a special teams standout for years. His first blocked punt of 2020 led directly to the first touchdown of the game against Arkansas when walk-on linebacker Barton Lester recovered the ball in the endzone.
The spark Peters provided on special teams is nothing new. You may also recall that Jordyn Peters was the player who stopped Kentucky’s fake punt attempt in Week 1 that essentially sealed the win for Auburn. The ability that Peters has shown to make game-changing plays on special teams is a huge asset and will likely lead to a professional team giving him a chance to make a roster once his college career ends.
Auburn’s freshman running back Tank Bigsby amassed 268 all-purpose yards from rushing, receiving and kick off returns against Arkansas. Bigsby had already shown glimpses of his potential in limited opportunities during the first two contests, but when Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn called on the talented newcomer to step in and be the Tigers’ first option at tailback, he delivered in a big way.
Bigsby’s playing style is inspiring for his teammates and frustrating for opponents. There simply are no easy tackles of the Auburn running back. Tank Bigsby’s ability to make defenders miss and run through would be arm tackles is impressive, but also necessary for the Tigers’ offense to function right now. The Auburn offense needs others to step up and play with the fight and determination Bigsby has displayed to improve as a group.
The Auburn defense totaled seven tackles for loss (including three sacks) against the Razorbacks. That is not a dominant performance, but it is an improvement following the outing against Georgia where the defense had only two tackles for loss. The most encouraging part is that a number of those stops and sacks were made by defensive linemen.
Moving forward, the Auburn defensive front will be required to make tackles for loss and generate pass rush without blitzing, and the defense’s performance against Arkansas showed that it is possible on multiple occasions. There is still much room for improvement, and more difficult opponents are waiting in the wings, but the Tigers can build on the win against the Razorbacks.
Hindsight is 20/20
Arkansas offensive coordinator Kendall Briles has likely replayed in his mind the three plays that he called following Anders Carlson’s missed field goal a thousand times in the last couple of days. Leading Auburn by one point with just over 2:30 remaining in the contest, the Razorbacks attempted three plays that were much more concerned with running clock than gaining any yards.
Of course, Auburn had all three time outs and used one after each play. So, Arkansas gained a grand total of two yards and burned only about 45 seconds with their possession and punted the ball back to Auburn with roughly two minutes left on the clock. Clearly, it would not be conventional to dial up three Hail Mary attempts in the Razorbacks’ situation, but their offense had thrown for over 300 yards and had Auburn’s defense on its heels the entire second half.
If given another chance, the Arkansas offensive staff would probably do things differently and be a little more aggressive. Arkansas’ inability to pick up a first down with 2:30 left is where the game turned back into Auburn’s favor.
Auburn’s third down defense
Auburn’s defense entered the game last in the country allowing opponents to convert on third down attempts nearly 70% of the time. Against Arkansas, the Tigers’ defense allowed only six conversions in 15 attempts for its best performance of the season. The ability to force the opponent to punt is always huge, but it was even more impactful against Arkansas because the Razorbacks’ special teams units were dreadful.
Auburn can gain confidence from its third down performance against Arkansas, but there does seem to be one glaring issue: The Tigers seem to love to blitz a lot of players on third down, and opposing offenses have taken notice. Each of Auburn’s opponents have picked up long third down conversions by simply throwing screen passes to tailbacks as the blitzers rush by. Expect Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to shore up this weakness as Auburn progresses through the remainder of its schedule.
“They just said it was a fumble, a backward pass, but they blew the whistle before we recovered the ball so they couldn’t review it, I guess. That’s the explanation I got.” –– Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman on Auburn quarterback Bo Nix’s apparent fumble.
It was never exactly clear what the referees ruled when quarterback Bo Nix was called for intentional grounding, but he appeared to spike the ball backward, which would be a fumble. The officials correctly penalized Auburn for intentional grounding once Nix fumbled the snap initially and then spiked the ball. However, it really seemed like Nix’s spike was actually a lateral, and therefore should have been treated as a fumble.
Unfortunately for Arkansas, the officials blew the whistle signaling an incomplete pass before any player realized the ball was live and could be recovered. Since the play was blown dead, there was no ability to review whether or not there was a fumble recovery. It was a brutal turn of events for the Razorbacks.
In a game that requires having things break your way for a great season, the Auburn Tigers will gladly accept the outcome and move forward to face South Carolina this week.
Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: email@example.com or on Twitter @z_m_shaw