AUBURN, Ala. — Through five games, Arkansas had, statistically, one of the worst defenses in college football.
But on Saturday against Auburn — unquestionably the worst offense in the Southeastern Conference — the defense rose to the occasion in a 24-7 win at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“Our football team played their hearts out today,” Arkansas head coach John L. Smith said. “They had relentless effort, relentless effort, relentless effort, so they deserve the credit.”
After five games, the Razorbacks had allowed the most passing yards in the nation at 1,747 — an average of 349.4 yards per game. Arkansas held Auburn to 281 passing and 321 total.
Arkansas had just seven sacks of opposing quarterbacks for 80 yards of losses. Against Auburn, Arkansas totaled eight for minus-80 yards.
“It was critical. We felt like we could (pressure the quarterbacks) coming into the game,” Smith said. “Our defensive plan was to bring some pressure, bring some heat, and we didn’t vary from that.”
Defensive coordinator Paul Haynes said he made sure his assistants kept him from getting too complacent in the second half. Arkansas had five sacks at the break, including two on third down to halt Tigers’ drives.
“I told my defensive staff, ‘Don’t let me get conservative, let me keep calling it and keep it going,’” Haynes said. “We asked our team at halftime, ‘This is what we’re going to run; can you execute it?’ They said ‘Yes’ and coach (Kevin) Peoples and coach (Steve) Caldwell said, ‘Call whatever you want and we’ll get it done,’ and they did.”
Huntsville, Ala., native Trey Flowers benefitted the most from the aggressive approach. The sophomore defensive end notched 3 1/2 sacks and five total tackles — both career highs. He said not getting a scholarship offer from Auburn motivated his play.
“I guess you could say I had a chip on my shoulder. Coming back here knowing Auburn didn’t give me a scholarship, I just had a chip on shoulder,” Flowers said. “That’s what I’ve been thinking about all season. I said before the season, ‘You don’t offer me, you better not play me.’ I made sure they knew they missed an opportunity.”
That pressure on the Auburn quarterbacks — Kiehl Frazier and Clint Moseley — paid dividends as Arkansas generated five turnovers.
The Razorbacks were dead last in the nation in turnover margin at minus-13. Arkansas had turned the ball over 15 times and gotten back just one fumble and one interception. On Saturday, the Razorbacks got two fumble recoveries and three interceptions from Auburn.
“Finally, finally got some turnovers,” Smith said. “That’s a big key. That’s like we talk all the previous games, that’s all the difference.”
Arkansas got interceptions from Ross Rasner, Will Hines and Alan Turner. Hines also recovered a fumble, as did Colton Miles-Nash.
Haynes said the play of the two freshmen cornerbacks — Hines and Dayvon McKinney — was one of the high spots of the game.
“The week of practice that they had, I wasn’t nervous at all,” Haynes said. “They were aggressive in what they were doing and challenging passes.”
The Razorbacks turned in that defensive performance without linebacker-defensive end Tenarius Wright, who is scheduled for an MRI on a shoulder this week. Then linebacker Alonzo Highsmith left the game in the first half with an apparent ankle injury. He returned to the sideline in the second half wearing a walking boot to protect the ankle.
But senior linebacker Terrell Williams filled in for them. The senior from Tulsa, Okla., had a game-high 12 tackles for Arkansas.
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik was left struggling for answers following the game.
“I certainly didn’t expect to play like we played today. But the reality of it is, today we did all the of the things you can’t do and win, and we know that,” Chizik said. “Offensively, you can’t turn the ball over five times, and this is the result that you get. … Eight sacks. Offensively, one of the most poor performances I have seen in a long time, just point blank.”