By Kurt Voigt
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. —
Gus Malzahn finally had his day in Fayetteville.
Tre Mason rushed for 168 yards and four touchdowns as No. 8 Auburn earned their first-year coach a 35-17 win in his return to Arkansas.
Mason scored on runs of 9, 4 and 5 and 12 yards as the Tigers (8-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) won their fifth in a row in Malzahn’s first game in Fayetteville since leaving the Razorbacks as an assistant following the 2006 season.
Auburn’s Nick Marshall, returning from a shoulder injury, accounted for 177 yards of total offense, including an 88-yard touchdown throw to Sammie Coates.
Jonathan Williams had 104 yards rushing and Alex Collins added 92 on the ground for Arkansas (3-6, 0-5), which has now lost six in a row. It’s the longest losing streak for the Razorbacks since a seven-game stretch in 1990.
Much of the discussion leading up to the game involved Malzahn’s return to his native state, as well as his budding rivalry with first-year Arkansas coach Bret Bielema.
The two engaged in a bit of back and forth regarding player safety in a hurry-up offense this summer, and Bielema stoked the fire earlier this week by accusing Auburn of being less-than forthcoming in game video it shared with the Razorbacks.
Bielema and Malzahn briefly shook hands before the game, but it was Mason who quickly turned into the center of attention — leading a Tigers’ offense that finished with 233 yards rushing.
Mason’s third touchdown put Auburn up 28-3 to open the second half, helping secure Malzahn’s first win in four tries at Arkansas. The former high school coach in the state was 0-3 in Fayetteville as an opposing assistant coach with Tulsa and the Tigers, but he left with a convincing win after his first trip home as a head coach.
Auburn hasn’t lost since a 35-21 setback at LSU on Sept. 21. The Tigers were 3-9 last season under former coach Gene Chizik, but they’ve found renewed belief under Malzahn.
Arkansas, meanwhile, has struggled mightily under its first-year coach, falling to 0-5 in the SEC for just the second time since joining the conference in 1992. After opening the season with three straight wins, the Razorbacks have now lost six games in a row — lately in convincing fashion.
Zach Hocker’s 34-yard field goal in the second quarter closed Auburn’s lead to 7-3, and it was Arkansas’ first points since the opening quarter against South Carolina on Oct. 12. The points snapped a streak in which the Razorbacks had been outscored 121-0.
The Razorbacks did close to within 28-17 early in the fourth quarter after a 2-yard touchdown run by Kiero Small, but even the rally wasn’t without a show of gamesmanship by Bielema , who said the Tigers had cut out the swinging gate portion of a point-after attempt on the shared video.
Small’s touchdown came after Arkansas converted a fourth down, using a play in which the Razorbacks lined up for the first time this season in a swinging gate formation.
Even the subtle shot across the field wasn’t enough for Arkansas to overcome Mason, who responded shortly afterward with his fourth touchdown run, a 12-yard score that put the Tigers up 35-17.