No. 9 Auburn rides special teams to 34-3 win over Arkansas
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — One week after Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham had to talk about a loss, he didn’t mind discussing the Tigers’ flaws exposed in a lopsided win.
Noah Igbinoghene scored on a 96-yard kickoff return, and a partially blocked punt by Jordyn Peters set up another touchdown as big plays on special teams helped No. 9 Auburn beat Arkansas 34-3 on Saturday night.
Freshman JaTarvious Whitlow ran for two touchdowns as Auburn (3-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) regrouped after last week’s last-second loss to No. 6 LSU. The Tigers were far from dominant on offense as Stidham passed for only 134 yards.
“We found a way to win,” said Stidham, who completed 15 of 22 passes with no interceptions and no touchdowns. “That’s all I care about. ... We’re going to have a lot of things to correct and fix and that sort of thing, but as long as we win, it’s all that matters.”
Auburn was held to 91 yards rushing. Whitlow ran for 49 yards, including a 15-yarder for a touchdown midway through the final quarter that was the team’s longest run of the night. Whitlow had a 5-yard scoring run in the first quarter.
“Offensively, we didn’t play our best but we didn’t turn the ball over,” said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.
“We didn’t play good tonight, there’s no doubt about that. We’ve got to be able to run the ball better.”
Whitlow was stopped on a fourth-and-1 run from the Arkansas 8 in the second quarter — the second straight week the Tigers were denied on a fourth-down conversion.
“If you call it, you need to get it, and we didn’t get it,” Malzahn said.
Auburn led only 10-0 late in the first half when Peters partially blocked a punt by Reid Bauer. K.J. Britt returned the ball to the Arkansas 9, setting up Stidham’s 4-yard scoring run.
Peters said special teams coach Larry Porter emphasizes “plays that nobody pays attention to.”
“In the long run, they do add up,” Peters said.
Rakeem Boyd had eight carries for 66 yards, but the Razorbacks (1-3, 0-1) had few offensive highlights. By the final quarter, the back of Arkansas quarterback Ty Storey’s white jersey was stained green, evidence of repeated hits from Auburn’s defense.
The kickoff return by Igbinoghene was a decisive answer to a 10-play field-goal drive to open the second half for the Razorbacks’ only points. Arkansas consumed two of its three timeouts before settling for Conner Limpert’s 29-yard field goal, cutting Auburn’s lead to 17-3.
One week after Cole Kelley threw four interceptions in a loss to North Texas, Storey returned as the starting quarterback and completed 13 of 31 passes for 141 yards with one interception. He had 12 carries for 44 yards.
“I think Ty was a warrior,” said Arkansas coach Chad Morris. “l thought he was gritty and played with a chip on his shoulder and the moment was not too big for him.”
Morris said Storey earned another start.
Kelly made spot appearances for quarterback runs designed to take advantage of his 6-foot-7, 258-pound frame, but each time Storey returned the following play.
Arkansas: A series of mistakes and penalties — including for 12 men on the field, illegal substitution and illegal formation — helped keep the Razorbacks scoreless in the first half. The mistakes became more difficult to overcome when added to the breakdowns on special teams. Overall, Arkansas drew eight penalties for 57 yards.
Auburn: The big surprise was poor pass protection for Stidham, who was sacked four times. When Stidham couldn’t establish a passing game, the offense became too one-dimensional. The Tigers were averaging 235 yards rushing through their first three games before the sharp decline against the Razorbacks.
Malzahn and Morris are good friends who share similar backgrounds as former Tulsa offensive coordinators and high school coaches. Morris said their friendship was no distraction on the field.
“We talk all the time,” Morris said. “Before the game we talked a little bit, but really this was just like coaching another game.”
BIG RETURN, NO POINTS
Auburn cornerback Javaris Davis intercepted a pass by Storey late in the first half and ran 57 yards for an apparent touchdown that was negated by a penalty for an illegal block in the back during the return. Anders Carlson was wide left on a 51-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the half. Carlson was wide right on a 54-yard attempt in the first quarter but connected from 18 and 43 yards.
After dropping only two spots following the loss to LSU, the Tigers may have played well enough to at least protect their spot within the top 10. Despite the sluggish performance on offense, the margin of victory was enough to match Auburn’s role as a 30-point favorite.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks will play Texas A&M in the Southwest Classic in Arlington, Texas on Saturday.
Auburn: The Tigers will play their fourth straight home game when they play Southern Miss on Saturday.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25