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December 26, 2014

Auburn football: Tigers roar in second half to put away Razorbacks

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Posted: Saturday, August 30, 2014 10:11 pm | Updated: 11:48 pm, Sat Aug 30, 2014.

AUBURN — Auburn didn't just beat Arkansas in its season opener Saturday.

The Tigers overcame Mother Nature, too.

In Auburn’s 45-21 win, the Tigers endured a weather delay of one hour, 28 minutes in the fourth quarter. They led 38-21 when lightning was detected within 10 miles of Jordan-Hare Stadium, sending both teams to the locker room.

"Very proud of our guys and the way they came out of the gate against an SEC team," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said in his postgame news conference. "Tie game at halftime, we talked to our players and told them it was probably going to be a dogfight. ... Very proud of the way our guys responded."

Cliche as it sounds, the win truly was a team effort — or at least, it was a tag-team endeavor at quarterback.

In the first half, Jeremy Johnson was surgically precise. The sophomore completed 12 of his 16 attempts in the first 30 minutes, finishing with 243 yards and two touchdowns.

After that, his night was over.

"Very proud of Jeremy Johnson," Malzahn said. "We've said before that we feel like he could start for most teams in college football and I think everybody saw that today,"

During Johnson's first-half flurry, he may have found a favorite target for the future: D'haquille Williams.

The junior college transfer caught nine passes for 154 yards and a touchdown, helping the Tigers roll up 595 yards of offense and four touchdowns.

And it's not as if the Tigers missed a beat when Nick Marshall relieved Johnson to start the second half.

Taking the field for the first time in the 2014 season, Marshall got right to work. After Auburn took the opening kickoff in the second half, the senior marched the team 78 yards down the field for a touchdown.

Marshall himself did most of the heavy lifting, accounting for 58 yards (34 passing, 24 rushing) on the drive, finishing it in style, as he cut through the Razorbacks' defense on a 19-yard score. Once Carlson's extra point split the uprights with 10:42 to go in the third quarter, the Tigers held a 28-21 lead.

Malzahn described how Marshall's score unfolded from his vantage point.

"It was a certain way they were playing us. They were keying on our running back, and we got a couple of good blocks at the point of attack and it opened up," Malzahn said. "(Right guard) Avery Young went up and made a really good open field block on the safety and allowed Nick to score."

As well as the offense was playing, however, Auburn found it difficult to pull away from Arkansas in the first half.

The Razorbacks' mammoth offensive line — which averages 320.8 pounds a starter — opened massive holes for its talented trio of tailbacks. And the trio obliged. Alex Collins (68 yards on 10 carries), Korliss Marshall (45 yards on eight carries) and Jonathan Williams (35 yards and a touchdown on seven carries) helped the Razorbacks tally 151 rushing yards in the first 30 minutes.

But it wasn't just Arkansas' ground game that got going — the Razorbacks' aerial attack joined in, giving the visitors near equilibrium offensively. Junior quarterback Brandon Allen hit on 64.3 percent of his attempts (9-for-14) for 116 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The Razorbacks' balanced performance took them into the half knotted 21-21 with the Tigers. Auburn even had the opportunity to take a three-point advantage into the locker room.

The right upright did the Tigers no favors, however, as Daniel Carlson's 42-yard attempt clanged off the beam and fell limply to the ground as time expired in the second period.

When the teams came back out after halftime, however, Auburn began to show why it entered the game as nearly a 21-point favorite.

And this time, the offense had little to do with it.

After giving up 267 yards in the first half, Auburn permitted just 43 in the third period. One play, courtesy of Robenson Therezie and Jermaine Whitehead, encapsulated the Tigers' second half turnaround. Therezie got to Allen on a blitz, forcing the quarterback into rushing his throw.

Senior free safety Jermaine Whitehead was in the right place, snatching the ball out of air and dashing into the end zone for a 33-yard score.

"I got some good pressure from the upfront guys and the one on the blitz," Whitehead said. "The ball came out wobbly — it wasn't even meant for my man. It was supposed to go deep. But I was just able to make a play on it and turn it into something.”

The Tigers put one more score on the board — a 45-yard field goal from Carlson — before the lightning delay to extend the advantage to 38-21.

And the way they came out after the weather break — scoring another touchdown and showing no letup — impressed Malzahn.

"We just made sure our guys were off their feet and could rest their body.  ... One of the big things for me was the way they responded after that,” Malzahn said. “I thought that was one of the more positive things to happen tonight. That tells you we've got some veteran guys and some leaders that made sure to go out there and finish that thing the right way."

After winning his opener for the second time in as many seasons as Auburn's coach, Malzahn, as he is known to do, focused only on the here and now.

"We're 1-0 and 1-0 and in the SEC," he said. "Give Arkansas credit. I think they're a much improved team, and I think they'll win quite a few games this year."

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