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A spirit that is not afraid

Auburn searching for answers after second-half meltdown versus Arkansas

Auburn defensive end Colby Wooden (25) and Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) wait for the touchdown signal in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Oct. 29, 2022.
Auburn defensive end Colby Wooden (25) and Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) wait for the touchdown signal in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Oct. 29, 2022.

Auburn went one step forward last time out and two steps back this week.

Statistically, Auburn gave itself every chance to beat Arkansas. It won the turnover battle (1-0) for the first time this season, and the Tigers were leading in total yards at halftime (246-244), but a second-half collapse put that in the back of Auburn's minds in a 41-27 Arkansas victory.

Postgame, all Auburn players as well as head coach Bryan Harsin mimicked the same message: Auburn's performance in practice doesn't carry over into the game. This is its fourth straight loss, and it is 3-10 in its last 13 games.

“It just wasn't the thing that we executed in practice," said senior EDGE Derick Hall. "It doesn't speak to you know, who just tuned in so I mean, that hurts a lot.”

Tank Bigsby put the Razorbacks on edge and the Tiger offense on his back in the second quarter, as he passed Kerryon Johnson to move into 11th in all-time rushing for Auburn (2,514). But his 11 carries and six catches couldn't carry Auburn to a win. 

He beat everyone down the left sideline for his longest touchdown run of the season in the second quarter to make it 17-10, and after a last-second field goal made it a four-point difference going to the break, Auburn was seemingly in for a dog fight.

Auburn running back Tank Bigsby (4) bursts ahead for a 41-yard touchdown run against the Arkansas Razorbacks in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Oct. 29, 2022.

Auburn changed the narrative of its second-half collapses against Ole Miss with 17 second-half points, but the Tigers came out of the break with a flat tire or two. But the truck, known as K.J. Jefferson, kept all its wheels intact, as Arkansas routed Auburn in the second half, 24-14.

Quarterbacks Robby Ashford and Jefferson had very similar days passing, but Arkansas played a complete game with complete drives. 

Jefferson went 16-for-24 for 243 yards and a TD, and Ashford went 24-for-33 for 285 yards and a TD. But Anders Carlson kicked four field goals, and Oscar Chapman still punted five times despite Auburn gaining 468 yards. One of Carlson's kicks missed wide left and his 52-yarder never stood a chance to make it past the Razorback defensive line.

Auburn quarterback Robby Ashford (9) escapes the pocket for a 34-yard rush against the Arkansas Razorbacks in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Oct. 29, 2022.

Meanwhile, Jefferson manhandled the Auburn defense. He accounted for three TDs, including a 13-yard scramble that saw him break Derick Hall's sack attempt in the backfield, flatten Zion Puckett and carry Donovan Kauffman into the end zone. 

Jefferson also picked apart Auburn's secondary by hitting eight different receivers and completing six passes of over 15 yards. Despite three Auburn sacks, his physical build and quick, accurate delivery allowed him to remain unbothered in any place on the field --including the end zone.

When he crossed the goal line for the second time of the day, No. 1 celebrated with the Super Man shirt rip, which instilled flashbacks from Auburn fans of Heisman-winning QB Cam Newton.

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"Crazy. (Jefferson) definitely did (surprise me)," Wooden said. "He got started last year where one of us could have tackled him. He definitely got stronger on his lower body... He definitely got better.”

Despite the loss, it was a breakout showing from freshman Camden Brown. He snagged his second TD catch of the season in the fourth quarter before he set up a last-second Auburn score with a 49-yard reception to get to the Arkansas 2-yard line. 

“Big shout out Camden Brown," said junior defensive end Colby Wooden. "I was watching him. He keeps — he kept fighting. And I appreciate that."

On the next play, Jarquez Hunter boosted into the end zone for his fifth TD of his sophomore season, but it was too little, too late.

Auburn now falls to 3-5, and Arkansas improves to 5-3. With all the unknown surrounding the Auburn program right now, it now needs to finish 3-1 or better to secure a spot in a bowl game.  Before that can happen, though, Auburn has to figure out what to change and what to improve.

"Well, I don't think we have our finger on (what has gone wrong) right now," Harsin said. "There's things that we see in every practice, not every game. It's in everything you do. It's the time we spend preparing ourselves. It's the commitment to what we're doing... I mean, at the end of the day, we're not playing good football." 

But the postseason might be looking too far in the future. The question now is: will Harsin be Auburn's coach next week when the Tigers venture to Mississippi State?

Noah Griffith | Assistant Sports Editor

Noah is a senior in journalism from Salem, Alabama. He joined the Plainsman in August of 2021 after transferring in from Southern Union Community College.

Twitter: @NoahGG01

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