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AUBURN —Auburn has one of the worst turnover differentials in all of college football, but the Tigers did not turn the ball over against Arkansas. The Tigers rushing offense, which was No. 53 in the country, gained 183 yards on the ground against the Razorbacks, and Robby Ashford had the best game of his career, going 24-33 for 285 yards and a touchdown.
Auburn still lost 41-27, its first loss to the Razorbacks since 2015. Auburn is 3-10 in its last 13 games, and Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin is looking for answers once again.
“I don't think we have quite, our finger on it right now. Otherwise we’d change that, you know. There's things that we see, in every practice, it's not every game, it's every, it's everything we do,” said Harsin. “It's everything we do. It's the amount of time we spend preparing ourselves, it's the commitment to what we're doing. It's the planning that the coaches and everybody puts in, it's the execution. You know, it's football, I mean, really, at the end of the day, we're not playing good football.”
The Razorbacks walked into the fourth quarter with a 31-13 lead as the result was all but official, and Auburn was left with another bad start to the second half.
Despite the dwindling number of fans on hand for the lowest-attended SEC game at Jordan-Hare stadium since 2007, there was hope in the stands as the teams headed to the locker room. Auburn trailed just 17-13 despite a rough start to the game.
The defense stepped up to start, giving Auburn two opportunities to put points up early with a three-and-out and a turnover, but a stagnant offense combined with special teams issues led to Auburn managing just three points on two drives in Razorback territory.
It was a long day for Anders Carlson, who went 2-of-4 on field goals, including one that was blocked.
“We hadn’t up to this point. So we'll look at it,” Harsin said when asked about making a change at the position. “I think we missed a field goal today. We had one blocked, that was a long field goal.”
Auburn’s early lead was short-lived as Arkansas moved the ball down the field at will, finishing off an eight-play 75-yard drive with a one-yard KJ Jefferson touchdown run, giving the Hogs a 7-3 lead with 3:10 remaining in the first quarter.
Auburn ended the first quarter with two passing yards against the No. 128 passing defense in the country and the Razorbacks made the Tigers pay with an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by another KJ Jefferson touchdown, this time featuring a highlight reel-worthy stiff-arm of Zion Puckett. Auburn trailed 14-3 with over 10 minutes left in the second quarter.
Trailing by double-digits at home again, the Tigers fought back with a Tank Bigsby touchdown, but Anders Carlson’s long day continued as a kickoff out of bounds set Arkansas up with a shorter field, eventually resulting in three more for the Hogs.
“We had too many mistakes to win a football game,” Harsin said. “We got to, all of us, do a better job of eliminating those. And coaching, playing preparation. It all goes back to that when you're playing good football teams.”
The teams then traded poor punts before Auburn took over with 56 seconds left in the first half with the ball at its own 41, and the offense was able to string together a few passing plays and get to the Arkansas 7 and take a field goal, shrinking the lead to four as the teams headed to halftime.
Auburn had a chance to take the lead to start the second half, but an Anders Carlson kick that was blocked turned into a Razorback touchdown and Auburn lost control of the game as the deficit grew.
The Tigers were outscored 14-0 in the third quarter, managing just 73 yards to Arkansas’ 163 as the team came out flat again and the defense struggled to make stops. Overall, Auburn was outscored 21-0 in the second half before it found the end zone again late in the fourth.
“I'd say it's the same thing. Like just finish,” said defensive lineman Colby Wooden. “We always come out and start well, play well, and get to the second half. And then it just kind of goes downhill. So you just need to finish.”
Wooden and the run defense were gashed again as Auburn gave up over 200 rushing yards for the third consecutive game, the first time that has happened since the 2014 season. They have given up 40 points in four games this season, the most in program history.
The Razorbacks finished the day with 520 yards, 286 on the ground and 234 on the air, as Auburn had few answers for the balanced attack and quarterback KJ Jefferson. He finished the game with 234 passing yards, 45 rushing yards and three total touchdowns.
“He[Jefferson] got stronger from last year, last year where one of us could have tackled him,” Wooden said. “He definitely got stronger on his lower body.”
As Wooden and the defense struggled to stop Jefferson in the second half, the offense disappeared until late in the fourth quarter.
Robby Ashford had his best game of the year, completing 24 of his 33 attempts for 285 yards and one touchdown, although that touchdown came with just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter. Camden Brown showed promise, leading the team in receiving yards and finishing the game with a touchdown, but the signs of life from the offense were too little too late.
Derrick Hall, who finished the day with a sack, is focused on moving forward as a leader of this team.
“We are just trying to take it one week at a time, you know, the biggest thing is just really getting back on track,” said Hall. “Obviously guys are sad, but you know, they have time to go home and assess this loss and come back tomorrow”
Auburn hits the road for only the third time this year as the Tigers travel to Starkville to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CST on ESPN2.
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