By Justin Graves
The Cullman Times
The Auburn defense bent, and it broke — many, many times.
Until the fourth quarter.
Seventh-ranked Auburn forced three turnovers in the fourth quarter and scored one defensive touchdown, turning what had been an offensive shootout into 65-43 win over No. 12 Arkansas Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“I guess we found another way to win?” Tigers coach Gene Chizik said. “But hey, what else can I say? This team is resilient.”
Clinging to a one-point lead early in the fourth quarter — in the midst of an offensive shootout — Auburn hadn’t stopped the Arkansas offense since before halftime.
But when the Tigers did get that first stop, they made it count.
Zac Etheridge scooped up a fumble near midfield and raced 47 yards for a touchdown. Josh Bynes followed with interceptions on Auburn’s next two defensive series, helping the Tigers hold off the upset-minded Razorbacks.
All three turnovers translated into Auburn touchdowns — quarterback Cam Newton and running back Michael Dyer rushed for touchdowns of 3 and 38 yards, respectively.
“That first turnover, it was huge — a real momentum-changer,” Etheridge said. “With this team, we live together and we fight together.
“And it when it comes down to the fourth quarter, we just keep finding ways to win.”
Arkansas’ offense swapped blows with Auburn for three quarters, and the Razorbacks did it without star quarterback Ryan Mallett, who left the game early in the second quarter with an injury.
Backup quarterback Tyler Wilson threw for 332 yards and four touchdowns on 25-for-34 passing. And for two quarters, he was near flawless, throwing one incompletion.
“I thought (Wilson) had a lot of poise,” Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. “He was concentrating, focusing and making plays … he gave us a chance to be in position to win in the fourth quarter, and obviously, we didn’t get it done.”
Wilson made a couple of costly mistakes in the fourth quarter. Auburn’s quarterback did not.
Newton, who leads the SEC in rushing, ran for 188 yards and three touchdowns while throwing for 140 yards and one score. He finished 10-for-14 passing.
“We tried to get numbers on Cam Newton all night,” Petrino said. “Even when you have guys there, he breaks tackles. He’s also fast and big and can really run the ball. He’s just a really good player.”
Auburn took its first lead in the second quarter when Wes Byrum kicked a 43-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 10-7 advantage.
That lead was short lived. Mallett led Arkansas down the field in 12 plays, capping off the 88-yard drive with a1-yard run by Broderick Green.
Mallett didn’t return following that touchdown.
After touchdown runs by Ontario McCalebb and Marion Fannin, Byrum kicked a 26-yard field goal to give Auburn a 27-21 lead heading into halftime.
And then the madness began.
Auburn and Arkansas swapped touchdowns on the next five series before the Razorbacks’ got the first defensive stop of the second half in the closing seconds of the third quarter.
Arkansas followed with a six-play, 64-yard scoring drive that ended with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Greg Childs, giving the Razorbacks a 43-37 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Childs finished with nine catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns.
“We believe in the fourth quarter, the importance of that fourth quarter and how much time we’ve put in and trained just to win that fourth quarter,” Chizik said. “We emphasize it daily; weekly.
“Our team gets together at the end of every third quarter, and basically the mantra is that if we are not ahead, we are going to win it and come ahead and get ahead, and if we are ahead, we are going to keep the lead.”
Point taken — and proven.
Auburn responded quickly. Newton led Auburn on a 68-yard drive in seven plays — completing all four passes he attempted. And the fourth completion — a 15-yard touchdown to Emory Blake — gave Auburn the lead for good.
“We are very resilient,” Newton said. “and we will refuse to lose.”
Justin Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 257 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.