FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Auburn clinched bowl eligibility Saturday behind four touchdowns from Payton Thorne and a defense that held Arkansas to 255 yards in a 48-10 win.
The Tigers (6-4, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) led 14-0 after the game’s first two series thanks to a 75-yard opening drive capped by a 12-yard run by Thorne. Arkansas punted on its first drive and Keionte Scott returned it 74 yards for another touchdown.
“Fast starts have been good to us,” Auburn coach Hugh Freeze said. “I think we do a decent job of managing the game if we get out to a lead.”
Despite coming off a season-high in yards gained against Florida a week ago, the Auburn defense never allowed the Razorbacks (3-7, 1-6 SEC) to find rhythm. Arkansas needed five drives before it avoided a three-and-out. It had just 110 yards of total offense at halftime and its three points came after Dwight McGlothern’s interception allowed Arkansas to start its fourth series at the Auburn 20.
Auburn scored another touchdown on its opening drive of the second half when Thorne found Ja’Varrius Johnson against Arkansas’ blown coverage for a 14-yard score. The Tigers tacked on another score on the first play of their next drive on an 11-yard Thorne touchdown pass to Rivaldo Fairweather.
By that point, the boos that were so prevalent in the opening half-hour had morphed to apathy as about half the stadium had already cleared.
“For whatever reason, it didn’t look like we played with a lot of energy,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said. “That’s not what a good coach or a well-coached team does.”
Auburn gained 354 yards rushing with Thorne picking up 88 and a touchdown. He finished 12 of 20 passing for 163 yards and three touchdowns.
Arkansas’ KJ Jefferson was pulled in the fourth quarter for Jacolby Criswell. Criswell went for a 60-yard run on his first possession and capped the drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Isaac TeSlaa with 14:35 left.
Jefferson finished 10 for 16 passing for 110 yards with another 50 on the ground. He was also sacked five times.
“I thought we played our most complete game of the year against a team I thought played their best last week,” Freeze said.
Auburn ran the ball 55 times against 21 passes. The Tigers’ 354 yards rushing were their most against an SEC opponent since they ran for 543 against Arkansas in 2016.
Arkansas’ loss eliminated the Razorbacks from a chance at postseason play. It also forced Arkansas to win its season finale against Missouri in order to avoid their fourth one-win-or-fewer season in SEC play since 2013. Since that time, only Vanderbilt has a worse in-conference record.
Auburn has not finished a season with more than six wins since 2019 and with two games to play, including one against New Mexico State, the Tigers appear to be headed for their best season since.
Arkansas’ season went from disappointment to disaster in a hurry. The Razorbacks had earned bowl berths in each of coach Sam Pittman’s previous three years, but frustration has already led to the replacement of offensive coordinator Dan Enos and could put Pittman on tenuous ground at season’s end.
Auburn is back at home against New Mexico State on Saturday.
Arkansas will host Florida International on Saturday.
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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football