AUBURN — Jermaine Whitehead’s goal was to have more interceptions during his senior season.
He got off to the right start Saturday, with a 33-yard interception return for touchdown in No. 6 Auburn’s 45-21 win over Arkansas before a sold-out crowd of 87,451 at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday
It was the second career touchdown return for Whitehead, who had a team-high seven tackles as well.
“The rewards come with hard work,” Whitehead said. “I feel like I’ve been out there a lot. It’s time for me to make as statement this year.”
Robenson Therezie drilled Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen, sending the ball fluttering right to Whitehead, who returned it for a score to give Auburn a 35-21 lead with 2:39 to go in the third quarter.
Whitehead, a senior, made his 27th straight start for the Tigers. He is coming off a junior season in which he had 65 tackles.
A native of Greenwood, Miss., Whitehead had two interceptions in 2013, and one in 2011, which he returned 25 yards for a touchdown against Florida Atlantic.
“I like all the picks I had in my career,” Whitehead said. “Hopefully I’m going to get a lot more.”
Ray shines again
Coming off the biggest catch of his life, Melvin Ray wanted to put his dream-like 50-yard touchdown in the BCS National Championship Game behind him.
The junior wide receiver did just that Saturday, with two catches for 77 yards and a touchdown in spectacular fashion. Ray nearly matched all of his production in 2013 (five receptions, 108 yards, one touchdown).
Jeremy Johnson connected with Ray for a 49-yard touchdown off a play-action fake to Cameron Artis-Payne drew the cornerback off Ray, who shook past Razorbacks safety Rohan Gaines and blazed down the left sideline for the game’s opening score with 9:37 to go in the first quarter.
“He hit me in the hole and I knew I had one guy to beat,” Ray said. “Once making him miss I saw nothing but end zone from there and I just wanted to make sure I got in.”
On the opening drive of the third quarter, Ray made an outstanding one-handed midair 28-yard catch of a Nick Marshall pass on third and two from the Auburn 40-yard line. Three plays later, Marshall ran in a 19-yard touchdown to give Auburn a 28-21 lead with 10:42 to go in the third quarter.
The former Los Angeles Dodgers prospect said he was not the first read on the play, which required the acrobatic catch.
“He put the ball up where no one could get it pretty much and only I could go up and get it,” Ray said. “It felt like baseball all over again. Going up I actually thought I mistimed the jump. So once I went up I was kind of worried of coming down too early but once I got a hand on it I knew it was good.”
Carlson get his kicks
Handling all three kicking responsibilities was supposed to be difficult, but redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson made the task appear relatively easy.
Carlson blasted a punt of 62 yards — the longest for the Tigers since Kody Bliss (69 yards) in 2006 — one for 54 yards and another for 44 yards, which was downed at the Arkansas 15-yard line.
The Colorado Springs native was 1-for-2 on field goals, making a 45-yard attempt to give Auburn a 38-21 lead with 9:55 to go before the game was suspended for 1:28 due to lightning.
Carlson’s 42-yard kick as time expired in the first half hit the right upright, sending the teams into halftime tied at 21.
Seven of Carlson’s eight kickoffs went for touchbacks.
Fallen players remembered
Auburn had a moment of silence for Philip Lutzenkirchen and David Langner before kickoff. Lutzenkirchen died in a single-vehicle crash outside of LaGrange, Ga., on June 29. Langner died April 26 after a long battle with cancer.
Lutzenkirchen was one of the program’s most beloved players in recent memory, playing tight end for the Tigers from 2009-12. In his four seasons at Auburn, he caught 59 passes for 628 yards and 14 touchdowns. His 14 touchdowns are the most in school history for a tight end, while his seven scores in 2011 set a single-season school record for the position.
Langner will be remembered for his starring role in one of the most memorable Iron Bowls — Auburn's 17-16 win in 1972. In the fourth quarter, Langner scooped up two blocked punts and returned both for touchdowns, helping the Tigers rally from a 16-3 deficit. Langner also came up with an interception on the Crimson Tide's final drive to put the finishing touches on the Auburn's comeback victory.