AUBURN | The Tigers certainly had their share of issues during the first half against Arkansas on Saturday, but things changed dramatically after halftime.
Auburn came alive once Nick Marshall took over at quarterback, building a nine-play, 78-yard drive to move ahead for good. That's not a surprise considering Marshall's ability to burn opponents through the air and on the ground.
And that's exactly what he did Saturday.
Still, Marshall changed the game's landscape in some important indirect ways as well. His work off the bench clearly sparked a beleaguered defense, which regained the upper hand during the second half.
So that's what happened Saturday. Let's take a look at the individual plays that led to Auburn's 45-21 victory.
Melvin Ray was an unlikely star in the game against Florida State, breaking free for a long touchdown to open things in Pasadena. He did the same thing Saturday. He took a routine pass to the left side, broke a tackle and sprinted 49 yards for an uncontested touchdown that sent the Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd into a frenzy. The play gave quarterback Jeremy Johnson, making his first start against a Southeastern Conference opponent, all the confidence he needed to burn Arkansas through the air. He finished 12-of-16 for 243 yards and a pair of touchdowns during his two quarters of work.
Arkansas plays straightforward, physical football. Everyone knows that. The Razorbacks weren't shy about sticking to their strengths Saturday, giving tailback Alex Collins the ball early and often in the 'A' and 'B' gaps. The sophomore ripped off a pair of 20-yard runs during Arkansas' first drives that prefaced a touchdown pass that evened the score at 7. Those two runs were alarming in the sense that the Tigers were using seniors at both tackle spots during that stretch -- and they completely failed to manage the threat. Auburn eventually adjusted in there, but those runs from Collins served notice that the Tigers' initial plan wasn't going to work. At all.
Johnson did some nice things during his time at quarterback Saturday, but he wasn't used as a runner. That was by design. Still, Arkansas was able to focus on the tailback more ardently knowing that Johnson wouldn't carry the ball. Marshall took over during the third quarter and this situation changed dramatically. His first drive ended like this: Marshall 5-yard run, 28-yard pass to Ray, Cam Artis-Payne 12-yard run, Artis-Payne 1-yard run, Marshall 19-yard touchdown run. Arkansas wasn't sure what to do with two primary rushing options in play along with Marshall's passing ability. That confusion gave Auburn a major advantage -- and yielded a big touchdown.
Arkansas had the ball at its own 18 during the third quarter. It needed a touchdown to equalize, but that didn't happen. Instead, star safety Robenson Therezie blitzed off the edge, slammed into quarterback Brandon Allen as he threw and knocked the ball well off its intended trajectory. Safety Jermaine Whitehead made the easy interception, cut back and turned the gift into an important touchdown. The Razorbacks, to that point, had been able to build retorts to the good things Auburn's offense had been accomplishing. Once Whitehead crossed that goal line to create a two-touchdown advantage, the visitors and their run-first plans were put into a compromised position.
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