AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn entered the latest edition of its sneaky-good SEC West rivalry with Arkansas boasting an offense with more balance in terms of passing yards to rushing yards.
But Gus Malzahn is a run-first coach at heart, and it showed Saturday night in one of the biggest conference routs in school history.
Auburn (5-2, 3-1 SEC) dismantled Arkansas (5-3, 1-3 SEC) in a 56-3 rout inside Jordan-Hare Stadium, racking up 543 rushing yards to set a school record for a game against an SEC opponent. The Tigers only had 89 passing yards, opting to keep things simple against a constantly gashed Arkansas defense.
The Auburn defense was consistently in the face of quarterback Austin Allen and held a rushing attack that had the SEC’s leading rusher to just 25 yards on the ground. By stifling the Razorbacks for some sweet revenge, Auburn showed it is a completely different team from the one that couldn’t get anything going in a 1-2 start to the season.
Player of the game
RB Kamryn Pettway: 27 carries, 192 yards, 2 TD
Stanton Truitt had more touchdowns than Kamryn Pettway, and it was tempting to name the finally healthy converted hybrid playmaker the star of the evening. But this honor once again will go to Pettway, who was the driving force behind Auburn’s legendary performance on the ground against an SEC opponent.
Pettway averaged more than 7 yards per carry to extend his lead in that category and thrived in the absence of Kerryon Johnson. Pettway ran over an Arkansas linebacker early in the first quarter for a touchdown, setting the tone for the rest of the game.
The former fullback has three 150-yard games this season and back-to-back contests with multiple touchdowns. He showed some slick moves in the open field for a 240-pound running back and provided a lot more than just power in the rout.
The sophomore has emerged as one of the best running backs in the SEC after not getting a touch in the season opener against Clemson. Auburn has rectified this mistake and made “Bubba” the lead bully for Auburn’s rushing attack as Johnson makes his way back from an ankle injury.
Would Auburn be rusty after taking a bye week in the middle of a winning streak?
This question was answered swiftly and decisively. Arkansas’ first drive featured plenty of pressure from the Auburn defense and an interception that was called back for an offsides penalty. Once the Tigers got the ball, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee dialed up something new — a speed sweep to true freshman wide receiver Eli Stove that went for a 78-yard touchdown.
Auburn scored touchdowns on its first three drives as the defense clamped down on an offense that featured a highly productive quarterback and the leading rusher in the SEC. There were some shaky drives during the middle of the first half, but the Tigers finished strong with a 5-play, 80-yard touchdown to go up 28-0.
The Tigers also had an encouraging third quarter by forcing a turnover and adding two more touchdowns. Third-quarter slumps have been an issue for this Auburn team — even in wins — so putting the final nail in the coffin after halftime was important.
Auburn picked up right where it left off against Mississippi State and got even stronger during the bye week. By dominating a higher-ranked team, Auburn has a great chance to make some serious noise in the SEC West race in the home stretch of the season.
How bad is Kerryon Johnson’s ankle injury, really?
One of the biggest storylines heading into this game for Auburn was the status of starting running back Kerryon Johnson, who injured his ankle early in the win over Mississippi State two weeks ago. Johnson rested during the bye week, practiced all throughout game week and was active for the matchup against Arkansas.
However, Johnson never saw the field. He stood on the sideline with his heavily wrapped ankle as fellow sophomore Pettway got his first career start. After Auburn jumped to a quick start, the Tigers had no reason to risk using Johnson in what would become a blowout.
Auburn’s offense had no problems running the ball on the big fellas of Arkansas, with the Tigers breaking the 400-yard mark before the game got into the fourth quarter. Pettway starred with another huge workload, Stove hit a huge play and Stanton Truitt got the most work of his young Auburn career.
But not every run defense is going to be as weak as Arkansas from here on out. The Tigers would love to get Johnson back for a big road trip to Ole Miss next Saturday night. If Johnson is ready to roll in Oxford, it will add more fuel to an already-on-fire offense.
98 and 91. Auburn only scored 98 points in its first four games, and that included a 51-14 rout of Arkansas State. Auburn has scored 91 points in the first halves of its last three wins against Louisiana-Monroe, Mississippi State and Arkansas. With Lashlee calling plays, Auburn is getting out to incredibly quick starts, which has done wonders for the team’s confidence.