The No. 17 Razorback football team battled the Auburn Tigers on Saturday, falling 38-23 in a hard-fought contest. It was the Hogs’ first game in Fayetteville since Sept. 18 and their third consecutive Southeastern Conference loss.
After scoring 14 consecutive points to take the lead in the third quarter, Arkansas looked to be in business when it forced a second consecutive three-and-out. But after an advantageous roll on the Auburn punt, the Hogs took over deep in their own territory.
“(Redshirt junior returner Nathan) Parodi said he lost the ball,” Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman said following the game. “The sun was in his eye, and he said he lost the ball, and Parodi’s not going to lie.”
Auburn defensive end Derick Hall sacked Arkansas sophomore quarterback KJ Jefferson and forced a fumble in the end zone, which defensive lineman Marcus Harris recovered, giving the Tigers a 21-17 lead with 7:19 to play in the third quarter.
“I think it was one of the key moments in the game,” senior left tackle Myron Cunningham said. “It kind of turned the tide toward them.”
The first half was frustrating for the Razorback offense, which drove the ball into Auburn territory in each of its first five possessions, only to stall out on three of them. Arkansas punted on fourth-and-2 from the Tigers’ 41-yard line, missed a 53-yard field goal and turned the ball over on downs following a less than optimal spot in the red zone.
Jefferson was once again the backbone of the Arkansas offense, passing for 228 yards and two touchdowns as well as rushing for 66 yards on 18 carries. Junior wide receiver Treylon Burks posted another stellar stat line, racking up 109 yards and two scores on nine catches.
Desperately needing a score at the end of the half, Jefferson drove the Hogs down the field, capping off a 12-play, 84-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Burks.
The Razorbacks entered the locker room at halftime facing a 14-10 deficit.
“I think later in the second quarter we started playing better on defense, we started covering them a little closer too,” Pittman said. “We got a break or two, they dropped a pass or two. I think we got settled in on the game and got a little more confidence.”
The Razorbacks carried the momentum from the last drive into their first of the second half, as Jefferson took the Hogs down the field, finishing a six-play, 75-yard drive with a 30-yard strike to Burks, which gave the Hogs a 17-14 lead.
After the defensive score and another Arkansas turnover on downs, Auburn quarterback Bo Nix hit Demetrius Johnson with a 71-yard touchdown strike that extended the Tiger lead to 28-17 with 4:16 to play in the third quarter.
“It kind of took the wind out of our sails, it seemed like,” Pittman said.
Arkansas grabbed some momentum as the third quarter came to a close, closing the Auburn lead to 28-23, but the Tigers were too far down the stretch on their way to victory.
“We left too many plays out there,” senior linebacker Bumper Pool said. “(We’re) feeling very frustrated.”
The Razorbacks will look to get back on track next Saturday at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock as they take on Arkansas-Pine Bluff in another 11 a.m. game. It will be broadcast on the SEC Network.
“I have great belief in our football team that we can win games and turn it around,” Pittman said.