No. 13 Auburn eludes Hogs 30-28
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas' near comeback victory ended in a controversial, 30-28 loss Saturday night to No. 13 Auburn at Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Never leading until receiver De'Vion Warren caught his second of quarterback Feleipe Franks' four touchdown passes for a 28-27 advantage with 5:29 left in the game, then dodging Auburn kicker Anders Carlson's missed 34-yard field goal attempt at 2:38, an official's premature whistle on a Auburn intentional grounding penalty voided a fumble that would have belonged to Arkansas.
It gave Carlson, kicking 25- and 47-yard field goals during Auburn's 20-12 first half, another chance to win it. Though his kick again started veering left, it stayed within the uprights for the 39-yard game-winner with seven seconds left.
The controversy stemmed from Auburn quarterback Bo Nix on a third and 1 from the Arkansas 19 with no timeouts left when he attempted to spike the ball to stop the clock. However, Nix fumbled the snap, and his spike actually was a backward fumble that would have been Arkansas' ball had it not been blown dead as an incomplete pass and intentional grounding.
Carlson kicked the field goal as Arkansas lost to Auburn and the quick whistle.
”They said it was a fumble, a backwards pass, but they blew the whistle before we recovered the ball," Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said. "So they couldn't review it, I guess. That's the explanation I got."
Of his 13-point favored Tigers' narrow escape, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said: ”These SEC wins, especially this year, are not easy. You look around the league. (SEC favorites Florida and LSU were upset Saturday by Texas A&M and Missouri). Our guys found a way to win, and we’ll take it."
Arkansas safety Jalen Catalon recalled fellow safety Joe Foucha recovering the fumble that didn't count.
"We thought he threw it backwards once he received the ball, and Joe Foucha did a good job of getting on top of it,” Catalon, a game-leading 14 tackles, said. "We thought it was a fumble, but sometimes the game doesn't bounce your way, and that's what it was. So, we got to swallow one. It's a tough one to swallow, but we got to swallow it, get back in the film room, and get ready for Ole Miss next week."
Arkansas, 1-2 going into next Saturday's game against Ole Miss in Fayetteville, clawed back from a 17-0 deficit during the first half but suffered a game-deciding flaw ensuing even as it accompanied Arkansas' first TD.
Following Franks' 4-yard TD pass to Mike Woods at 6:24 of the first quarter as rain incessantly fell in the first half and would resume after a third-quarter respite, place-kicker A.J. Reed slipped after the holder bobbles the ball and the PAT never attempted.
Arkansas tried and failed on 2-point conversions after Franks (22 of 30 for 318 yards and no turnovers vs. four TD passes) completed a 7-yard TD pass to Warren with 2:15 left in the first half and a 5-yard TD pass to running back Trelon Smith with 4:14 left in the third quarter.
After Reed kicked a 23-yard field goal with 11:37 left following a failed goal-line package with freshman quarterback Malik Hornsby followed Franks driving the Hogs to the Auburn 4.
Reed kicked the then 28-27 go-ahead PAT on Franks' 30-yard TD pass to Warren (five catches for 95 yards with a 44-yard long catch on that drive.
"We had to chase points all night," Pittman said. "I felt like it was the right thing to do to get us back within three, but we missed two 2-point conversions and we ended the game (down) two."
Subbing for injured preseason All-SEC Rakeem Boyd (left home in Fayetteville with injured top receiver Treylon Burks), Trelon Smith rushed 81 yards on 21 carries and caught six passes for 78 yards with a touchdown.
Pittman praised Franks and Smith for rescuing Arkansas from its 17-0 defecit while Arkansas' defense compensated for a slow start offensively and special teams.
Auburn scored its first touchdown with Barton Lester recovering in the Arkansas end zone the George Caratan punt blocked by Jordyn Peters.
"We knew he (Smith) was going to do that,” Pittman said. “He practices that way. We knew he'd have a good game because just practices his tail off."
As for Franks, the graduate transfer QB via the Florida Gators, Pittman said, "He played a heck of a game. He's tough. He did a lot of good scrambling. He made good decisions and I'm awful glad he's on our football team."
Pittman just wishes the effort Saturday didn't ultimately include a victory that appeared in Arkansas' grasp.
“Our team is hurting right now mentally and physically," Pittman said. "And I just feel terrible for them that we couldn't pull the win out. I'm very proud of them. We were down 17-0 and we came fighting back, and I'm proud of the way our offense started playing there after a slow start. Our defense did a good job all night."
Both sides of the Razorbacks' ball played with fill-ins for injured starters.
"We're still a little beat up (walk-on cornerback Hudson Clark played for cornerback Montaric Brown (also injured against Mississippi State)," Pittman said. "We have got to get some guys back, but I'm really proud of the guys who stepped up for the guys who weren't there."
Malzahn's Tigers, 2-1 and visiting South Carolina next Saturday, also played without several injured starters while amassing 259 rushing yards. The Tigers were led by running backs Tank Bigsby (20 carries for 146 yards) and DJ Williams (eight for 71) and Nix, with a 17-yard TD among his 30 yards on 10 carries.
Bigsby netted 25 yards on two runs and a Nix pass as Arkansas went three runs and short punt after Carlson's fourth-quarter miss at 2:38. Nix completed 17 of 28 passes for 187 yards, including 10 for 100 yards and a TD to premier receiver Anthony Schwartz.
Auburn started its winning drive at 2:06 with no timeouts from the Arkansas 45 extended by the fumble-voiding quick whistle at the Arkansas 19.