Down by six points with 14 minutes left to play in the fourth quarter, the Auburn Tigers once again found themselves in a situation ripe for panic. On this day at Pat Dye Field, however, no panic would ensue and the Tigers would score four times in five minutes, thoroughly whipping the Arkansas Razorbacks by a score of 65-43. The 108-point total broke an SEC record that had stood since 1995.
Auburn used its offense, defense and special teams to spank the Hogs. Yes, I did say special teams. The very component of Auburn's game that I have harped on for weeks finally played an A+ game. In fact, special teams played beyond expectations.
Earlier in the week, Coach Gene Chizik finally recognized a problem with kickoff coverage.
"Against Kentucky, we allowed them to run kicks back to the fifty, and we can't play defense from there all night," he said during his radio address on Tuesday.
Special teams coach Jay Boulware turned things around fast. His special teams unit blocked a Razorback punt, thrilled fans with a 99-yard kickoff return by Ontario McCalebb, and consistently pinned the Hogs between the 10 and 20-yard line on kickoffs.
The Tigers also went crazy for an average of 44.2 yards per kickoff return, which proved to be very costly for Arkansas. I can't say enough about special teams and their job well done.
Auburn made nine trips to the red zone on Saturday against the Razorbacks, and scored on all nine. Auburn's offense, behind quarterback Cam Newton, is certainly the talk of the nation for the time being.
"He is the real deal and I am buying into the Auburn Tigers. There's my love for Auburn," said Alabama's 1992 national championship quarterback, Jay Barker, Monday morning on his radio show, "The Morning Drive."
Cam Newton is being mentioned on more than a few lips these days as a very serious Heisman Trophy candidate. Just this past week he was placed on a watch list for the Maxwell Award, which is given to the nation's top college football player. It is the second watch list on which Cam Newton has been placed for a prestigious postseason award.
Against the Razorbacks on Saturday, Cam Newton was again the Tiger's most potent weapon. Rushing for 188 yards, Newton carried the ball twenty-five times, whether by design or not, to score three touchdowns. Stand still, Newton will elude you; come up to tackle him, and he just might run you over. By now, Bo knows that Cam Newton has BOOM.
Cam Newton is not only a weapon on the ground. His air attack can be launched at any time, something Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino discovered on Saturday. Newton completed 10 of 14 passes for 140 yards and one touchdown.
The most impressive aspect of Newton's game against the Hogs was his ability to make good decisions in the pocket. He did not turn the ball over at all, and he made frequent, timely escapes to run for large chunks of yardage.
"Cam Newton will eat grass," exclaimed an Arkansas fan on an early Saturday morning radio program. Although he was sacked twice, Newton never tasted grass, unless it happened when he dove into the end zone for one of his many touchdowns.
Senior running back, Mario Fannin, saw a lot of playing time due to a slightly injured Mike Dyer. Fannin took advantage of the opportunity by rushing for 60 yards on 14 attempts and catching three passes for 36 yards. Prone to fumbles, Fannin held on to the ball very well until he crossed the goal line for his only touchdown of the day.
One official on the field called it a touchdown.
Another official called it a fumble and Arkansas ball on the one-inch line.
It was agreed by the referees that the official who had called it a touchdown had the best view. As a result, the play stood as called when replay officials did not have enough video evidence to overturn the call.
In my opinion, it looked like a fumble.
At the end of the day, Auburn had two touchdowns upheld by video review. Neither one would have ended Auburn's chances of winning the game, if in fact the calls had gone in favor of Arkansas. The Tigers won by 22 points. Even if you take away the two touchdowns upheld by video review and give Arkansas one touchdown just for good measure, Auburn still wins by one point...theoretically.
On the other side of the ball, the defense proved to be unpredictable, but give some credit to the Razorback offense. Starting quarterback Ryan Mallet was knocked out of the game, but his replacement, Tyler Wilson, played absolutely superb.
Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn recruited Tyler Wilson to play at Tulsa. However, Gene Chizik came calling for Malzahn, and Arkansas came calling for Wilson.
Tyler Wilson put up 332 yards passing and scored four touchdowns with his arm. He did throw two costly interceptions in the fourth quarter, and Auburn scored touchdowns as a result of both.
At the present time, Auburn is better at stopping the run than it is at stopping the pass. The secondary is truly a weak spot, at times, and now, due to injuries to both Aairon Savage and T'Sharvan Bell, the secondary will be playing without two of its starters when LSU comes to town in a few days.
Aairon Savage is scheduled to have surgery today on his ankle and T'Sharvan Bell is nursing a bad hamstring. There is a chance the Tigers will have Bell on Saturday. Most likely, though, fans can expect to see a lot of play from youngsters Demetruce McNeal, Chris Davis and Ryan Smith. Part-time receiver Anthony Morgan and walk-on Ikeem Means may also see more play outside of special teams.
Demetruce McNeal has been tearing people apart on kickoff coverage and Chris Davis is one of the best overall athletes recruited by Auburn this past spring. I look for these youngsters to show some nerves at first, but otherwise I do not believe the defense will be any worse than it already is.
Against the Razorbacks, linebacker Craig Stevens had four solo tackles and eight assists and Neiko Thorpe had 10 solo tackles. That's right, 10!
Thorpe is guilty of giving up large pass plays and he has also been guilty of bad penalties, but he is doing his part, and he may be playing defense the way the coaches want. In other words, the coaches may want the pass defenders to play a little soft. When they do that, they don't mind giving up short-yardage catches because they can prevent long gains after a catch.
"You hear the defense, basically the secondary, is making us weak, We're fed up hearing that talk on ESPN, and that we're weak links. We want to improve," said Ikeem Means after the Arkansas game.
Linebacker, Josh Bynes was another Auburn defender with a stellar game, finishing with three solo tackles, five assists and two crucial interceptions in the fourth quarter. Zac Etheridge picked up a controversial fumble and returned it for a touchdown, adding his name to a long list of players who played well on a defense that is itself ripe with controversy.
Against Auburn, Arkansas put up 566 total yards and scored 43 points. If Auburn wishes to remain undefeated, improvements will certainly need to be made. Improvements were made with special teams and they can be made with the defense.
This is not the 1993 Tigers and it is not the 2004 team that was shunned by the BCS. This 2010 team under head coach Gene Chizik has a destiny of its own to write. So far, the 2010 Auburn Tigers are writing a very good story.
With a record of 7-0 and a rank of 4th in the BCS, where are the 2010 Auburn Tigers headed to from here? Hopefully, they are headed for improvements.
Should they keep showing consistent improvement, the story the Auburn Tigers write will continue to get better and better.