FAYETTEVILLE -- Another dismal second half doomed the Arkansas Razorbacks in their attempt to shake a growing skid against top competition.
No. 21 Auburn bounced back from last week's collapse at LSU and pounded Arkansas with its up-tempo offense and a high-pressure defense in a 52-20 rout before an announced crowd of 71,961 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (2-5, 0-4 SEC) lost its seventh consecutive game against a Power 5 opponent dating to November after a lackluster second half in which Auburn held a 35-14 advantage.
Auburn (6-2, 4-1 SEC) scored on its first three possessions of the second half, including Ryan Davis' 62-yard reverse pass to Darius Slayton, to turn its 17-6 halftime lead into a runaway and send much of the crowd to the exits.
"Yeah, going back to the last two games from a year ago to where we are today, the second half is a mental barrier," Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said. "But I think it just comes down to being able to have guys make plays. Obviously as coaches we have to put them in better positions, but guys have to make plays."
The lopsided victory for Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn is likely to take a little heat off the Fort Smith native for a couple of weeks as the Tigers have an upcoming open date.
"First of all, I'm very pleased with our team," Malzahn said. "We bounced back from a really tough loss last week. In the third quarter, I think we had one of our best quarters of the year. It was a good win. We get to go back home and heal up."
The temperature continued to rise for Bielema, whose SEC record fell to 10-26, including 1-4 against Malzahn.
"Obviously this is unchartered waters for me," Bielema said when asked whether he's thought about his job security. "I've never been in a situation where we're 2-5 and disappointed where we're at. The greatest thing about a coaching position is this, you just worry about the day in front of you.
"You just get in there and go to work. I know we're close."
The Razorbacks have allowed 41 or more points in each of their four SEC games and have been outscored 191-94 in SEC play.
Arkansas senior captain Kevin Richardson said the Razorbacks were "100 percent" behind Bielema.
"He's pushing us to be a greater team than what we are right now," Richardson said. "We know the potential of our team, and we're just trying to keep moving forward regardless of the outcome right now."
Auburn increased its lead in the all-time series to 15-11-3 and improved to 7-5 in games played at Razorback Stadium. The Tigers racked up 629 total yards to Arkansas' 334 yards.
Auburn followed its SEC-record 543 rushing yards in last year's 56-3 rout of the Razorbacks with 345 on the ground on Saturday. The Tigers passed for 284 yards.
Arkansas had trouble keeping quarterback Cole Kelley clean against Auburn's pass rush. The Tigers posted six sacks, two of them strip-sacks by Jeff Holland that were recovered by Auburn. The Tigers converted both into second-half touchdowns.
The Razorbacks generated more of a running game than in last week's 41-9 loss at No. 1 Alabama, but Kelley was under constant harassment in the pocket. The 6-7 freshman, making his second consecutive start for injured starter Austin Allen against the nation's No. 13 defense, was 15-of-26 passing for 163 yards.
The Razorbacks ran for 171 yards, led by 86 from David Williams. Freshman Chase Hayden had 42 yards on two carries, but his night was over when he limped off the field after a 40-yard run late in the first half. Bielema said Hayden is probably out for a significant period of time with a lower leg injury.
Devwah Whaley ran for 31 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.
Auburn tailback Kamryn Pettway, playing almost exclusively in the second half, ran for 90 yards and 3 touchdowns on 11 carries. Kerryon Johnson had 63 yards on 21 carries, including a touchdown, mostly in the first half.
Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham, working mostly from a clean pocket, completed 19 of 28 passes for 218 yards. He also ran for a 15-yard touchdown en route to 49 rushing yards. The Tigers outscored the Hogs 28-7 in the third quarter under his guidance.
"I think it was just more of an emphasis for us with last week being so disappointing in the second half, not finishing the game how we started and stuff," Stidham said. "I think we really wanted to come out today and finish what we started."
Slayton caught four passes for 146 yards and a touchdown.
The Tigers' up-tempo attack got hot out of the chute, aided by Slayton's catch and 50-yard run on a tunnel screen on the left flank that converted a third and 11 and reached the Arkansas 15.
The Razorbacks were trying to change personnel against Auburn's hurry-up as Stidham kept for a 15-yard touchdown over the left side to put the Tigers ahead 7-0.
Arkansas responded with a scoring drive of its own. Jonathan Nance had an 18-yard catch on a crossing route, then Kelley rolled right and found Jordan Jones for a 17-yard gain into Auburn territory. Kelley rambled 13 yards around left end to put the Hogs in field goal range, and Connor Limpert kicked a 34-yarder to make it 7-3.
Auburn converted three consecutive third-and-2 plays on its next possession after former Pulaski Academy standout Will Hastings' 22-yard catch, and the Tigers drove to the Arkansas 8. Henre Toliver had an 8-yard tackle for a loss, and the Tigers had to settle for Daniel Carlson's 21-yard field goal for a 10-3 lead with 1:04 left in the first quarter.
Auburn's pass rush started affecting Kelley midway through the first half and led to three offensive holding calls and a sack.
The Razorbacks halted an 87-yard Auburn drive in the shadow of their own goal post, with linebacker De'Jon Harris stopping Kerryon Johnson at the 2 to set up fourth and 1. Then Harris and Jonathan Marshall combined to go high and stop a Johnson leap over the pile.
Arkansas forced Auburn into its first punt late in the second quarter, but Arkansas' Nate Dalton bumped into return man Toliver, leading to a fumble that Auburn's Darrell Williams recovered at the Arkansas 41.
Johnson bolted around right end with a pitch seven plays later for a touchdown and a 17-3 Auburn lead at the 3:07 mark.
Hayden broke for 40 yards up the middle to the Auburn 35, and David Williams' 16-yard run helped the Hogs move the sticks after a holding penalty. The drive stalled at the Auburn 20, and Limpert came on for a 38-yard field goal to make it 17-6 at halftime.
Sports on 10/22/2017
Print Headline: Grounded again: Competitive first half gives way to another lopsided loss for Hogs