Auburn, Ala. - Arkansas used a place it has had plenty of success at to keep from having its worst start in 69 years.
The Razorback defense forced five turnovers and had eight sacks while Dennis Johnson rushed for a couple of touchdowns as visiting Arkansas ended a four-game losing skid by whipping Auburn 24-7 Saturday afternoon before 85,813 fans at Jordan Hare Stadium.
Tyler Wilson was 20-of-27 passing for 216 yards while quarterback-turned-wideout Brandon Mitchell took a reserse and threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Javontee Herndon as the Razorbacks (2-4, 1-2) never trailed throughout their first win since the season opener on Sept. 1.
"I want to credit this to our kids," Arkansas head coach John L. Smith said. "They really played their hearts out today. They played with relentless effort, rentless effort, relentless effort. So they deserve the credit. Our coaches put together a great plan regardless of who was in there. We had injuries again with guys going in and guys going out, but they all played extremely hard."
Wilson did not throw an interception and had the best protection he's seen for a team that has been under fire nationally and from its own fans.
"We came a heck of a long way in a week," noted Wilson, who was referring to a 58-10 loss at Texas A&M a week earlier. "This team continues to stick together, despite everything that happens outside the walls and what's being said, and I just commend that. I'm glad everybody in our locker room has continued to fight."
Arkansas led 10-0 at halftime and 10-7 at the end of the third quarter opening up a 17-7 cushion on Mitchell's touchdown pass to Herndon with 13:30 left in the fourth quarter and then capping the scoring it with Johnson's second two-yard scoring run of the day with 8:20 left in the game.
"Number one, it is exciting because this is why you play the game," Smith said. "You want these guys to have success and you know how hard they work. If you had seen us practice last week, you would've come off and said 'This is not a 1-4 football team.' They went out there and worked hard and they had energy. It's a credit to them and the coaches for keeping them there. We just have to build on that. We have to get ready for Kentucky."
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik felt his Tigers (1-4, 0-3) - who were coming into the game off a 12-10 loss to LSU followed by an open date - played so bad that he needed to apologize to the fans.
"You saw the game," Chizik said. "We had two weeks to prepare and we felt like we had two good weeks of practice and I certainly didn't expect to play like we did today. But the reality of it today is that we did all of the things that you can't do and win and we know that. Offensively you can't turn the ball over five times or this is the result you get. We missed big opportunities. Eight sacks. Offensively it was one of the most more peformances that I have seen in a long time - just point blank.
"Defensively, we started out slow but for three quarters defended the field pretty well, made some big third down stops," Chizik added. "But then again when we needed a stop to hold the game to 10-7 game, we couldn't quite come up with a stop. I thought all around it was a team loss and we are going to go back to work and continue to figure out how to face it.
"The bottom line is that the Auburn fans and the Auburn family did not deserve this and I apologize to anybody that came to the game to watch it," Chizik continued. "It was a good football team talent wise and we certainly had plenty of opportunities to play much better, but we didn't get it done. There are no excuses and that is about as simple as a I can put it."
The Razorbacks' eight sacks were one more than they had in the other five games combined and the most by an Arkansas defense since the 2000 Cotton Bowl win over Texas.
Smith credited defensive coordiantor Paul Haynes with the improvement.
"It was critical," Smith said. "We felt like we could coming into the game. Our defensive plan was to bring some pressure, bring some heat and we didn't vary from that. I think Coach Haynes up in the box did a good job of 'Don't let me get conservative. Keep me going.' We're talking all the time and he's talking and I think he did a good job with that. That was crucial for us."
Wilson was a fan of offensive coordinator Paul Petrino moving to the box.
"I think I like to be kind of in the zone, and I think a lot of times offensively you get distracted by what's happening on the defensive side," Wilson said. "I've tried to preset to the guidance of we're on the bench. We need to have complete and total focus of what we do. I had the headset on so I could completely zone out what the crowd was doing; what the defense was doing; they were doing a good job. So I liked that aspect of it. I think he could see the field better and make some calls that he wouldn't normally have made."
The five takeaways came from a group of defenders that had just two previously this season while turning it over 15 times coming into the game.
"We finally got some turnovers and that's been key," Smith said. "Like we talked about in all the previous games, that's the difference. A couple of great jobs, a couple of interceptions in the end zone, a couple of fumbles. We still don't need to put the ball on the ground late, but I'm not going to talk about anything negative."
The Razorbacks did make a change by taking offensive coordinator off the field and putting him in the coach's box.
"We had talked about it and in a staff meeting I said that is always - when I was a coordinator - that I felt the most comfortable if you can get your adjustments made on the field, if you have confidence in those adjustments that I want to make, then let's do it," Smith said. "He was all for it. I think it was good. I think he did a great job in coming back and not always over-adjusting with the people sitting down studying what did I call, what I didn't call, what do I have to go back to. I think it was a positive."
That pressure - headed by defensive end Trey Flowers' 3.5 sacks - kept Auburn quarterbacks Kiehl Frazier, Clint Moseley, Jonathan Wallace from having the success that previous quarterbacks had against Arkansas' defense this season.
Frazier, the former Shiloh Christian star who was pulled at halftime, was 13-of-21 passing for 163 yards with two interceptions while Moseley started the second half and ended 9-of-14 for 118 yards with one pick. Freshman wildcat quarterback Jonathan Wallace had two carries for 11 yards on a day when the Razorbacks had 11 tackles for lost yardage.
"They gave the line trouble," Moseley said. "There were times that we needed to throw the ball away. It's things like throwing it near a receiver that we have got to work on. It's not all line. It's something we need to take responsibility for as quarterbacks, me and Kiehl. We need to get the ball out instead of having a negative play, third and 17 or 20. Third and 10 is manageable."
Arkansas outgained Auburn 372-321 in total offense while both teams lost a pair of fumbles.
Wilson did admit that when the Razorbacks drove down the field on the first possession of the game and then Zach Hocker missed a short field goal, he was a little worried.
"I was thining "Here we go again,' you know," Wilson said. "I felt like we had a plan this week that put me in position where I felt I could be really successful. I was excited about it. The first play of the game was a play-action, deep throw. I hit Cobi and I thought if we stuck to that and ran the ball like we had been doing on that drive that it was going to be tough stopping us. I felt good about it, even though that happened."
Johnson found the end zone soon after that on his first two-yard scoring run and Hocker's 27-yard field goal with 6:33 left before halftime made it 10-0.
"We knew we could drive and score," Johnson said. "We told everybody to keep their heads up because we knew we would keep rolling and eventualy we would start scoring."
Arkansas will host Kentucky on Saturday at 6 p.m.
"It's (the win) is going to wipe away some things," Johnson said. "People are going to say what they are going to say. But if we keep winning, it will wipe away a lot more."