Auburn and Arkansas entered 2015 with high hopes. The Tigers looked to put 2014 behind them and recreate the magic that saw them a win away from a national title in Gus Malzahn's first year as Tigers head coach. Arkansas looked to build on season-ending momentum last year that had them a sleeper pick for the SEC West.
Though both are a long ways from the Top 20 preseason ratings that would've had this a circled game on calendars late this summer, the recent vocal-ish rivalry still expected to amount to a close, potentially compelling SEC West clash -- and particularly at the end delivered as promised en route to a 54-46 four-overtime thriller.
Arkansas struck early, making the Tigers' 122nd ranked efficiency defense look every bit as shaky as it's been the entirety of the 2015 season. Though Bret Bielema's offense has struggled at times in its own right, behind a balanced mix of Alex Collins runs and Brandon Allen play action passes, a great block by Jeremy Sprinkle sprung Dominique Reed on an end around to help Arkansas draw first blood of the afternoon.
With Auburn's offense unable to get anything going in the early portions of action, a 23-yard pass from Allen to Jeremy Collins gave the Razorbacks a 14-0 lead they looked poised to protect authoritatively. But freshman quarterback Sean White started to find his comfort zone, displaying incredible toughness taking hit after hit and moving the Tigers down the field.
Following a 16-play 96 yard drive to close the first half, Auburn went into the locker rooms down just a touchdown with seemingly all the momentum in the world.
The first drive of the second half proved as much with a Jason Smith nine-yard run evening things at 14 a piece.
After trading punts, Arkansas' offense found its identity again, serving up a healthy dose of Alex Collins once again. Freshman running back Rawleigh Williams III would, in a scary scene however, go down after colliding with multiple opposing defenders and have to be taken out of the stadium in an ambulance. Per a statement from the University of Arkansas, Williams was later diagnosed with a neck injury but has full use of his extremities and the trip to a nearby hospital was out of precautionary measures.
Following a length delay, Arkansas restarted the drive and found pay dirt behind Collins once again, giving them a 21-14 lead.
With both defenses starting to establish themselves, a huge fourth quarter connection between the freshman White and Jason Smith put the Tigers deep in the Arkansas red zone, culminating in a Jeremy Johnson punch in and eventually the score being even again.
Bret Bielema's side was subsequently given the opportunity to answer and put things away, and true to his vision for the team, sustained a long, run and screen dominated drive to maximize his team's chances to emerge victorious. Despite the best efforts of the Auburn D, Alex Collins bowled his way into Auburn burning all their timeouts en route to the go ahead and ultimately would-be game winning Cole Hedlund field goal.
The Tigers got the ball back with 1:07 to play before a near fumble by White could've culminated in them coming up well short. After a review gave the ball back to the Tigers, following a pair of dimes from Sean White to put the Tigers in field goal position, Daniel Carlson nailed the game tying kick with four seconds remaining to force overtime.
Peyton Barber exploded for 15 yards on the first play of overtime. An eight yard gain on the second preceded a third carry for a quick strike six.
Trailing 31-24, Arkansas got their turn. Though a pair of runs failed to yield much, Brandon Allen found a soft spot in the zone coverage to sustain the drive and keep the Razorbacks' hopes alive. After the ensuing series failed to get much going offensively, on fourth down, Allen found Drew Morgan in the end zone on a crossing route to force a second extra session.
The Razorbacks opened double overtime with a double pass that while exciting in real time culminated with Brandon Allen getting dinged up and favoring his left leg. Injury and all, Kody Walker took the next handoff from Allen and burst down to the 4-yard line. 1st-and-goal saw another handoff to Walker and ultimately a 38-31 lead.
Auburn had another chance to reciprocate and once again, behind a well executed mix of runs and passes did just that on the shoulders of Peyton Barber.
The third overtime had every bit the excitement of the first two with Auburn striking first on Barber's third touchdown in overtime alone (and fourth overall on the afternoon) before following up with a well designed Sean White to Melvin Ray throw-and-catch for two. Arkansas needed both a touchdown and two-point conversion to force a fourth overtime, and after getting the TD, Brandon Allen completed a pass on the two-point try successfully to force another OT.
Allen struck quickly at the beginning of the fourth as on a missed tackle Morgan was able to go down the edge to dive in for six. The two-point conversion was converted as well and after a defensive stop, which included a dropped would-be touchdown by Ricardo Louis and a pass break up on a nearly identical play on third down, Arkansas came away with a hard earned victory.
At 3-4, bowl eligibility is still very much in the realm of possibilities for the Razorbacks, especially with UT-Martin on the docket next. At 4-3, Auburn's loftier preseason ambitions are well behind them, but can still continue building for next season plus aim to play spoiler for divisional rivals Texas A&M and Alabama in future weeks.