Arkansas began climbing its way out of the national turnover cellar Saturday with five takeaways against Auburn. However, it gave two back. Arkansas is minus-10 on the season. The Razorbacks got their first turnover in 14 quarters in the second period when Ross Rasner hit Emory Blake after a catch, jarring the ball loose and Will Hines got the recovery with 9:01 left in the half.
Hines also got an interception with 13 seconds left in the half.
A muffed punt by Keante Minor resulted in an Arkansas turnover in the third quarter, but Colton Miles-Nash recovered a fumble with 11 minutes to play for the Razorbacks’ third takeaway of the game. An Alan Turner interception in the fourth quarter put Arkansas at minus-10 momentarily.
Jonathan Williams put it on the ground with 3:36 left and the Tigers recovered. Rasner interecepted Clint Moseley in the end zone with 3:04 left to get back to minus-10.
Arkansas’ minus-13 mark going into the Auburn game was last in the NCAA in turnover margin. The Razorbacks had 15 turnovers and the only offsets before Hines’ recovery were one interception and one fumble recovery. The minus-13 (2.6 per game) margin was three worse than Virginia, which was at minus-10 before Saturday — an average of two per game.
Arkansas’ eight sacks against Auburn were more than the team recorded all season and the most by a Razorback team since eight vs. Texas in the 200 Cotton Bowl. The total for the season was seven before Saturday. Trey Flowers led defenders with 3 1/2 for Arkansas. He also had five tackles.
Terrell Williams turned in his best performance as a Razorback with 12 tackles — seven unassisted. He also recorded one of the sacks. Chris Smith got credit for 1.5 sacks and others getting one each were Alonzo Highsmith and Robert Thomas. Ross Rasner had 10 tackles for Arkansas.
Arkansas’ defense has been so porous in 2012 that it was near the bottom in the nation in several defensive categories going into the Auburn game. The Razorbacks fared better against the Tigers, but still allowed 321 yards.
Going into Saturday, only four teams in the country were worse that Arkansas in total defense through five games, according to NCAA stats, which only list 120 of the 124 teams. Miami of Ohio, Louisiana Tech, Rice, and Baylor were No. 117-120. The Razorbacks were allowing 510.2 yards per game and had given up a total of 2,551 yards.
Arkansas was 117th out of 120 teams in pass defense, just ahead of West Virginia, Louisiana Tech, and Baylor. Teams prior to Auburn had piled up 1,747 yards n the air and 14 passing touchdowns against the Razorbacks. Opponents were averaging 13.14 yards per reception. The Razorbacks were 113th in scoring defense, allowing 40.6 points per game. The teams trailing Arkansas were Akron, UAB, Hawaii, Idaho, Tulane, Rice and Marshall.
Petrino In The Box
Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino called plays from the press box Saturday against the Tigers. Petrino had been on the sideline for the previous five games as offensive coordinator.
Arkansas’ offense was statistically potent in the first half, turning in a 224-yard performance, including 61 rushing — 51 of that by Dennis Johnson. Arkansas held a 10-0 lead at halftime. The third quarter was less than productive, but the offense ended with 130 yards rushing and 242 yards passing.
Coach John L. Smith said the change was made for the sake of change.
Arkansas, a season removed from an 11-2 record and Cotton Bowl appearance, and Auburn, the national champion two seasons ago, have 22 players combined who have made their first collegiate starts for their respective schools this season. Arkansas has used 14 first-time starters at various times.
Davyon McKinney became the latest on Saturday, starting at one corner in place of Kaelon Kelleybrew. McKinney is a redshirt freshman wide receiver-turned cornerback. Other first-time starters this season for Arkansas: Brandon Mitchell, Brandon Allen, Kody Walker, Mekale McKay, Brey Cook, David Hurd, Tyler Deacon, Luke Charpentier, and Morgan Linton — all on offense.
Defensive first-timers include Kaelon Kelleybrew, Rohan Gaines, Alan Turner and Will Hines.
Auburn’s eight first-time starters in 2012 have been Keihl Frazier, Jay Prosch, Tunde Fariyke, Greg Robinson, Avery Young and Patrick Miller on offense, and defensive players Angelo Blackson and Trent Fisher.
Two Seniors Out
Tight end Chris Gragg, and linebacker/defensive end Tenarius Wright, missed the Auburn game Saturday. It was Gragg’s second straight game to be out after suffering a bone bruise against Rutgers. Wright will get an MRI on his shoulder to determine the extent of a nagging injury suffered in preseason drills.
Smith said the injury figured into the decision to move Wright from linebacker, where he started the season, back to his natural position as defensive end. Coaches said last week it would take “another week” to heal. His return against Kentucky will be day-to-day. A decision on Wright awaits results of the imaging scan.
Wright is fourth on the team in tackles with 28. Gragg is fourth among tight ends in the NCAA for receptions per game with an average of 4.8. Going into the Auburn game, he was tied for seventh in the SEC and 12th in the league for receiving yards with a 58.5 per game average.
Auburn sophomore wide receiver Quan Bray was suspended and missed Saturday's game. Bray was the team’s third-leading receiver with 11 catches for 82 yards. He also was Auburn’s punt returner. He had recorded 23 yards on five returns. He also had a kickoff return for 21 yards.
Four Razorbacks returned to their home state for the Auburn game. Punter Dylan Breeding hails from Hoover while defensive end Trey Flowers is a Huntsville product. Both freshmen Darius Philon and JaMichael Winston are from Mobile. Breeding played his high school football at Hoover High School alongside Auburn’s Ryan Carter and Jaylon Denson.
Arkansas’ longest drive this season in terms of time came in the first quarter against Auburn. The 10-play, 80-yard drive consumed 4:38.
At Texas A&M, the Razorbacks kept the ball 4:11 and went 79 yards to go ahead 10-7 on a Zach Hocker field goal. The only other 4-plus-minute drive this season was the first drive of the opener against Jacksonville State. That eight-play, 80-yard drive for a touchdown consumed 4:06.
Eleven of Arkansas’ 19 scoring drives prior to Saturday were under two minutes. Six scoring drives by opponents prior to the Auburn game have taken more than four minutes off the clock while 10 took less than two minutes.
Dylan Breeding was ranked as a top-10 punter in the country after five games this season. Breeding was second in the SEC and ninth in the NCAA in punting average (45.5 yards). He had a big day against the Tigers, punting four times for an average of 51.5, including one for 70 yards. The senior out of Hoover, Ala., ranks third all-time at Arkansas in punting yards with 8,495.
— Dennis Byrd • Arkansas News Bureau