Auburn’s future bright after win over Arkansas
The extra bit of emotion was clear outside the Auburn locker
room following a 35-17 win over Arkansas, even if Tigers’ coach Gus
Malzahn only admitted it in bits and pieces.
Whether the habitually reserved Malzahn wanted to admit it or
not, the smiles and hugs among his friends and family told the
story of how much the win meant – especially after his first three
trips to his home state ended with losses.
”And I knew that, there’s no doubt,” Malzahn said.
Now that Malzahn’s homecoming is out of the way, the story line
for Auburn becomes itself.
More specifically, the remarkable season the No. 7 Tigers (8-1,
4-1 Southeastern Conference) have put together – rising from the
ashes of last season’s 3-9 collapse to rank among the SEC’s best
heading into their final three games of the season.
Exactly how far Auburn can ride its current five-game winning
streak is unclear. What is clear is Malzahn and the Tigers believe
there’s nothing they can’t overcome, even with a schedule that
includes next week’s trip to Tennessee before home games against
Georgia and top-ranked Alabama.
”I think it was big for (Malzahn),” Auburn linebacker Jake
Holland said. ”I think it’s big for the whole team. We’re 8-1 now
and each week getting better.”
While the Tigers still have hope of reaching the SEC
championship game for the first time since their national
championship season of 2010, the Razorbacks (3-6, 0-5) are now one
loss away from sealing a second straight season without a bowl
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was full of optimism when he was
hired away from Wisconsin last December, but he appears closer than
ever to missing out on a bowl game for the first time in his eighth
season as a head coach.
The myriad of season-long problems for the struggling Razorbacks
were once again in full force on Saturday, from three turnovers on
offense to a defense that allowed 233 yards rushing by Auburn.
Two of the turnovers came after starting quarterback Brandon
Allen was injured in the first half, missing two series while a
gash on his right leg was stapled and bandaged. Those drives ended
with an interception thrown by quarterback AJ Derby and a fumbled
snap by the backup, leading the first of four rushing touchdowns
for Auburn’s Tre Mason.
Bielema tried nearly anything imaginable on Saturday, from a
fourth-down conversion using a swing gate formation, to an onside
kick attempt and a pair of halfback passes. None of the creativity,
however, was able to slow Arkansas’ continued fall.
”It’s baby steps,” Bielema said. ”I’d much rather be
sprinting, but right now we’re walking.”
Allen, who has also missed action this season while battling a
shoulder injury, returned and finished 10-of-22 passing for 112
yards and a touchdown, but he was unable to pull the Razorbacks
closer than 28-17 in the second half.
”I think if you didn’t know it by now, he’s a tough kid,”
Arkansas fullback Kiero Small said of Allen. ”… He’s all in for
this team. That’s one thing, I think as a team we’ve got guys who
are in it for the cause.”
The Razorbacks’ cause at this point is just hoping for something
positive to happen before the end of the season.
The Tigers, on the other hand, have suddenly turned from one of
the biggest surprises of the SEC to being in a position to reach
the SEC title game. That’s no easy task given the teams still left
on Auburn’s schedule, but then again, it’s not like the Tigers were
supposed to have come this far in the first place.
”I’m just proud of the guys,” Malzahn said. ”They play
together, they do what the coaches ask, they play for each
”And they’re finding ways to win.”