AUBURN, ALA. — It didn’t matter which Auburn quarterback was in the game, Arkansas couldn’t stop either one Saturday.
Second-stringer Jeremy Johnson and starter Nick Marshall combined to lead the No. 6-ranked Tigers to a 45-21 win at Jordan Hare-Stadium.
Marshall was the star of Auburn’s run to the 2014 SEC championship and spot in the national title game. He threw for 1,976 yards in 2013 and run for another 1,068. He accounted for a total of 26 touchdowns. But during the summer, he was cited for marijuana possession and head coach Gus Malzahn announced he had suspended the senior quarterback for the start of the Arkansas game as punishment.
That put Johnson behind center. He was nearly perfect. The sophomore from Montgomery, Ala., completed 12-of-16 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns. His quarterback rating for the half was an astronomical 243.8.
In the first quarter, Johnson was perfect. He threw for 186 yards on seven passes without an incompletion. Johnson hit Melvin Ray with a 49-yard pass for the game’s opening TD. He also threw a 62-yard pass to D’haquille Williams that set up an 18-yard Johnson-to-Williams TD for a 21-7 Auburn lead.
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said little mistakes led to big mistakes by the Razorbacks’ defense.
“I think we have to make sure we’re looking at the right things. One of the things we talked about playing this offense is your eyes have to have great discipline. They’re going to take you to your reads,” Bielema said. “The speed of the game, the reads, keys and reactions it looked like we were a little bit slow on pass defense at times. We were a hair behind at times.”
Arkansas safety Alan Turner said too much respect for Auburn’s stout running game caused the problems.
“They’re a good running team and they do a good job with their play action off of that,” Turner said. “We, myself included, there was a couple times I had my eyes in the backfield and they took advantage of it. We know we’ve got a lot of things we need to correct.”
Arkansas, however, rallied to tie the game at the half at 21 as the Auburn offense came up empty on three late possessions — including a missed field goal at the end of the second quarter. Enter Marshall, who didn’t wait long to make an impression.
The senior marched Auburn for a nine-play, 78-yard drive capped by his 19-yard TD run. He finished with 19 rushing yards on eight carries. He was also an efficient 4-fo-6 passing for 50 yards and a 136.7 QB rating.
Turner said the differing styles didn’t affect the Razorbacks as much as their own mistakes did.
“I wouldn’t say it was difficult, but they do have two different styles,” Turner said. “Marshall is more of a runner and Johnson is a passer and he passed the ball good in the first half. We just needed to execute better.”
Turner credited D’haquille Williams with being the biggest impact player for Auburn. Williams caught nine passes for 154 yards and one TD. He had 138 yards at the half.
“He’s a good player,” Turner said. “He hurt us. Those big plays hurt us. We have to clean that up.”