Auburn vs. Arkansas score, takeaways: Razorbacks’ slide reaches three games after Tigers overcome slow start

Auburn defeated No. 17 Arkansas 38-23 at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday, keeping SEC West title hopes alive with a road win to improve to 5-2 in the season and 2-1 in the conference. An impressive performance by the Tigers and a wild game, especially in the second half, extended the losing streak of the Razorbacks to three games after their 4-0 start.

Arkansas (4-3, 1-3) opened the second half with a touchdown drive to take a 17-14 lead (the first of the day), and then, after forcing an Auburn punt, it looked like the Razorbacks were ready to take control of the game. But they didn’t. Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson was fired and fumbled in the Arkansas end zone where Auburn’s Marcus Harris fell on the ball for a score. Arkansas responded with a long drive to Auburn territory, but the Tigers defense came on big again, stuffing Jefferson on a fourth and three run to turn the ball around on downs.

In the next game, Tigers quarterback Bo Nix hit Demetris Robinson for a 71-yard touchdown that sucked the life out of the home crowd. Nix would later deliver the fatal blow, taking off for a 23-yard touchdown on a QB tie to give the Tigers a 15-point lead in the closing minutes.

Nix completed 21 of 26 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 42 yards. Jefferson threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns while leading the Razorbacks with a 66-yard rush.

1. This was the best I’ve ever seen from Bo Nix

While he’s played better games statistically — especially the season opener against Akron — I’ve never seen Bo Nix look better against a team of this caliber. The biggest difference in Nix that I noticed this season wasn’t so much that he improved as a passer overall and put in big marks; it was that he avoided devastating mistakes. Considering how many times he had made them in the past, that was a significant step forward in his growth.

He looked fantastic on Saturday, even with one flaw. Nix tore the secondary Arkansas apart with at least three of its five incompletes due to falling by its receivers. Of course, there was also an interception that came in the classic Nix style to decide where to go with the ball for the snap and toss it despite the cover.

But aside from that one game, Nix made game after game when his team needed him. I’ve criticized him a lot over the years, but if the Nix that played Saturday shows up for the Tigers every week, this is going to be a very dangerous football team.

2. Auburn flies under the radar, but poses a threat in the SEC

And even if the Bo Nix that showed up Saturday doesn’t show up every week, this is still an Auburn team ready to make some noise. This was the second game of a difficult stretch for the Tigers and a much-needed win after last week’s loss to Georgia. The Tigers have games against Ole Miss and Texas A&M. But Alabama’s loss to A&M last week opened the SEC West in a way most didn’t expect. Now the Tigers are in a prime position to take advantage as they have games left against all of their main competitors within the division.

Auburn has a win over a ranked Arkansas team and two losses against teams still in the top 10 nationally. I don’t think anyone will pick the Tigers to win the West and go to Atlanta, but this team will at least have a say in who comes.

3. Derek Mason makes this defense play well

It’s not always pretty on a down-to-down basis, but Auburn has a defense that seems to come up with big plays when needed. There was Derick Hall’s sack that resulted in the fumble recovery touchdown, and Smoke Monday made some huge tackles in third place to get his defense off the field. There were also three fourth-down stops that tipped the impact of this game.

Tigers defensive coordinator Derek Mason’s time at Vanderbilt may not have gone as well as he would have liked, but he’s been playing this Auburn defense very well.

4. Arkansas had so many chances to win this match

Looking at the box score almost makes you wonder how the Razorbacks lost this game. The Hogs played 28 more offenses than Auburn, going 10-for-19 in third place. In the game, they had 16 “big plays” (runs of at least 10 yards and passes of at least 15) covering 251 yards, and 47% of their offensive snaps were in Auburn territory. And yet they lost by 15 points. Nine of their 12 offensive possessions ended on Auburn territory, but the Hogs only managed three touchdowns and a field goal.

As previously mentioned, the Arkansas offense was stopped in fourth place three times, all in Auburn territory. It’s one thing to move the ball effectively, but you have to complete drives. Arkansas was able to do the former, but the latter was nowhere near enough.

5. Arkansas WR Treylon Burks is legit

I don’t know if he will win the Biletnikoff Award or be considered a Heisman contender on an Arkansas team that now has three defeats, but WR Treylon Burks is a matchup nightmare. Arkansas puts him on the outside and in the slot, and it really doesn’t matter where you put him because there aren’t many players in the country who can cover him.

Burks finished with nine receptions for 109 yards and two touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough for the Razorbacks to avoid the upset loss at home.

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