FAYETTEVILLE — For the first time, Gus Malzahn roamed the sideline as a college head coach in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. He led Auburn to a 35-17 win on very familiar ground.
As a high school coach, Malzahn won two games at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. As an offensive coordinator for the Razorbacks in 2006, he was 5-1 in Fayetteville during a 10-4 season. But since going to Tulsa, Okla., as a play caller in 2007 and then to Auburn in 2009, Malzahn was on a three-game losing streak in the facility.
But to the former Fort Smith resident, it was just another day at the office.
“I didn’t get into seeing friends and all that, it’s a business trip,” Malzahn said. “We’ll have time to come back in the offseason.”
That wasn’t the case for his wife, Kristi, who is also from Fort Smith. She had to deal with getting tickets for family members in Fort Smith and friends the family has collected in Malzahn’s high school stops at Hughes, Shiloh Christian and Springdale.
“It was a lot,” Malzahn said of the number of extra tickets he needed Saturday. “Kristi deals with all that and I know it was a lot.”
With Auburn running the hurry-up, no-huddle offense, Malzahn is usually responsible for more offensive snaps than ticket requests.
The Tigers came into the game averaging 72 offensive plays per game. Auburn’s high was 85 plays in a 35-21 loss to LSU. Twice the Tigers ran just 65 yards, both wins, against Western Carolina (62-3) and Ole Miss (30-22).
Against Arkansas, Auburn ran just 55 plays to 74 for the Razorbacks. But the Tigers gained an average of 6.7 yards per play to 4.7 per play by Arkansas.
In the first half, Auburn’s go-go offense ran just 22 plays for 124 yards. Nineteen of those plays were runs with Tre Mason picking up 93 of the Tigers’ 116 first-half rushing yards. Starting quarterback Nick Marshall was just 2-for-3 for 8 yards.
Auburn’s lack of opportunities was directly related to the success the Arkansas offense was having in the first half. Arkansas held the ball for 21 minutes, 43 seconds compared to Auburn’s 8:17. The Razorbacks ran 46 plays in the first half thanks to three drives of 12 or more plays each.
“They definitely controlled the ball and they kept it away from our offense. That was tough,” Malzahn said. “We were a little impatient there. But we were able to run the football. And our mindset coming into this thing was to run the football. I think we only threw it nine times.
“For the most part, we were fairly successful running.”
Unfortunately for Arkansas, only one of their four first-half possessions resulted in points. Arkansas turned it over twice, kicked a field goal and was stopped on fourth-and-goal at the Auburn 1. Arkansas center Travis Swanson said those missed opportunities hurt the Razorbacks yet again.
“You have to take advantage of the moments that are given to you,” Swanson said. “Like I said, we just kept driving and driving and making good plays and having good time of possession and when it really counted, a few times we made the most of it and a lot of the time we didn’t.”