BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
An Arkansas football team that was flying high after a 39-36 overtime road win as Florida came crashing back down to earth on Saturday with tremendous thud.
Auburn won its third straight game and was 7 of 7 in the red zone while dominating Arkansas 48-10 Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The Hugh Freeze coached Tigers (6-4, 4-3) rolled up 517 yards of total offense while limiting the Razorbacks (3-7, 1-6) to 255.
“Just really, really proud of our kids, I mean young men, really they are not kids, and our staff,” Freeze said. “To gain bowl eligibility on the road with another SEC win is something that I am really proud of and just thankful.
“I think we played our most complete game of the year that I thought played their best last week. Just really thrilled. There are a lot of highlights for sure.”
Auburn had a whopping 32-10 edge in first downs and was 7 of 12 third down conversions while Arkansas coverted only one of its dozen third down opportunities.
The Tigers jumped to 14-0 lead while on the first possession of game and xxx Scott’s 74-yard punt return for score.
That would grow to 21-0 soon afterwards as the first-year Auburn coach won his second game in two years in Fayetteville after leading Liberty to a 21-19 victory last season.
Jarquez Cross had 109 yards rushing and Auburn quarterback Payton Thorne added 88 while also going 12 of 20 for 163 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
“There were some highlights of the game – 21 points in the first 8:32 – and I think this is a big one, 7.3 yard average on first down,” Freeze said. That allowed us to go into tempo and do some different things.
“First punt return since 2014 and we were 7 of 12 on first down and they were 1 for 12. That tells a big story there. Another 100-yard game for Jarquez and most points in an SEC game since…2016. Good day.”
Auburn’s trio of consecutive wins have come over the SEC’s three worst teams in Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Arkansas, who have combined to go 2-19 in league games this season.
“I’m just thankful for our administration, our school and our fans that they are going to get to experience a bowl game somewhere,” Freeze said. “It is an exciting day for us.”
Freeze has led Arkansas State, Ole Miss, Liberty and now Auburn to bowl eligibility in his first year at each school.
“I think it is huge because it is something, and truthfully this is a bit selfish to say probably, but the staff and I, everywhere we have been, we have been able to do that in year one and I’d like to keep that streak alive and we have.
“More importantly for our seniors, for them to get to experience going out in a bowl representing Auburn and then for the extra practices for our young kids. I thought it was an important step in us rebuilding.”
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson was 10 of 16 passing for 116 and rushed 15 times for 50 yards, a number impacted four sacks totaling 20 yards.
He also hurried or hit on numerous occasions become back up Jacolby Criswell finished up.
“I thought they just made KJ feel really uncomfortable from the start off the game and just really crushed the pocket,” Freeze said. “You know he is going to break a few out of there because he has done it against everybody. But I thought our defense played really, really good.
“When we had a turnover (up 21-0) and put (them in bad shape), that was a win holding them to a field goal. I thought that was a big series in the game, too.”
Freeze, whose team started out 1-3 in SEC action, is certainly pleased with his team’s turnaround.
“I think we have handled the valleys and the climb out of the fire – as we called it a few weeks ago – I thought they handled it well,” Freeze said. “We stayed engaged for the most part.
“I don’t know that you can say that about every single member of any team, but I thought the leadership of our team demanded enough and now you are seeing the fruits of that, the results of it.
“You keep going to work, you keep believing, you keep staying with the process and you find yourself now in a position to go bowling for sure snd with two games left, we will see what happens with those, but this is a step in the right direction.”
Criswell had a 60-yard run in the fourth quarter to set up his 11-yard TD pass to Issac Tesla with 14:35 left that capped the scoring.
Arkansas had just 200 yards total offense while losing 7-3 to Mississippi State in its last home game.
The Razorbacks’ only points on Saturday came on a 39-yard field goal late in the first quarter by Cam Little, who is now 17 of 19 this season.
Photo by John D. James