AUBURN, Ala. — The Arkansas Razorbacks found a cure for their defensive maladies.
The Razorbacks forced five turnovers, racked up eight sacks and bullied an Auburn offense that has been struggling just as badly, beating the Tigers 24-7 on Saturday to snap a four-game losing streak.
Dennis Johnson had a pair of 2-yard touchdown runs for Arkansas (2-4, 1-2 Southeastern Conference), which had been blasted by a combined score of 110-10 in its first two league games.
“I’m glad everybody in our locker room has continued to fight,” Razorbacks quarterback Tyler Wilson said. “It’s awesome.”
The Tigers (1-4, 0-3) were left at the bottom of the SEC West after a second-half quarterback change failed to provide much spark for a mistake-prone offense.
“We did all the things that you can’t do and win,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “You can’t turn the ball over five times. We missed big opportunities. Eight sacks. Offensively, one of the most poor performances I’ve seen in a long time.”
Chizik admitted he didn’t blame the thousands of fans who streamed for the exits early.
“I apologize to any of the fans who came to watch it,” he said.
Chizik faced questions about his job security two seasons removed from a national title.
“I’m never concerned about my job security,” he said. “I’m very comfortable with myself, working really hard. I plan on being at Auburn next year.”
Wilson completed 20 of 27 passes for 216 yards. The Razorbacks scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to pull away before Auburn scored again in the final minutes.
Arkansas coach John L. Smith described the performance as “relentless.”
“No. 1, it’s exciting because this is why you play the game,” Smith said. “You want these guys to have success, and you know how hard they work. If you would have seen us practice last week, you would’ve come off and said ‘This is not a 1-4 football team.’
“They went out and they worked hard, and they had energy. It’s a credit to them and the coaches for keeping them there. We just have to build on that.”
Chizik replaced struggling starter Kiehl Frazier with Clint Moseley in the second half, seeking a spark for a sputtering offense. Moseley threw a pair of interceptions in the end zone during the fourth.
Auburn was shut down by the nation’s 116th-rated defense until late in the third quarter. Then Moseley found a wide-open Emory Blake, who stretched it across the goal line for a 21-yard touchdown with 33 seconds left in the quarter to make it 10-7.
“We expected to come out there and do way more than we showed,” Blake said. “As an offense, it’s embarrassing because we felt like we had a chance to put up a lot of points and some big yards.”
The Razorbacks then pushed it back to a two-score margin with some trickery. Receiver and former backup quarterback Brandon Mitchell fired a 26-yard touchdown on a reverse pass to Javontee Herndon with 13:30 left.
“It was a clutch moment,” receiver Cobi Hamilton said. “We needed that play right there at that time.”
Johnson then ran for his second touchdown midway through the fourth. That was too much for Auburn to overcome.
Frazier was 9-of-14 passing for 118 yards with an interception late in the first half with Auburn driving.
Moseley completed 13 of 21 passes for 163 yards with the two picks. They were sacked four times apiece by a defense that had collected seven sacks in the first five games combined. Chizik said he hadn’t settled on a starter against Mississippi next week.
“Coach Chizik said we needed a spark and he put Clint in there to give this offense a spark,” Frazier said. “It was his decision. I’m never going to go against him.”
Johnson had 17 carries for 76 yards for Arkansas as both offenses often plodded along. Arkansas outgained Auburn 372-321 in total yards but held the Tigers to 40 yards on 32 rushes, thanks largely to the sacks.
Blake did catch 10 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown for an offense missing suspended starting receiver Quan Bray. He also lost a fumble.
Hamilton was mostly held in check, with five catches for 72 yards, all in the first half, after racking up 465 yards in the last two games.
The Tigers had the ball in Arkansas territory five times without scoring before finally getting points on No. 6, and both quarterbacks were swallowed up for big losses to stall drives.
At first, it seemed like more of the same for Arkansas. The Razorbacks cruised down the field on their opening drive and had first-and-goal from the 6. Then Zach Hocker bounced a 25-yard field goal off the right post.
Wilson said he couldn’t help but think, “Here we go again.” That sense of fatalism didn’t stick, though.
“I felt like we had a plan this week that put me in a position where I felt we could be really successful,” he said. “I was excited about it. The first play out of the gate was a play action, deep throw, hit Cobi, and I thought if we stuck to that and ran the ball like we had been doing on that drive that they were going to be tough stopping us. So I felt good about it even though that happened.