AUBURN, Ala. — Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen’s game week got off to a rough start when his truck was set on fire outside of his Fayetteville residence.
There was a difficult ending as well Saturday, when Auburn put the clamps on Allen and the Arkansas offense in the second half of a 45-21 loss.
But Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was still impressed with the junior’s efforts.
“I thought he was engaged in the game,” Bielema said. “He came out, just overall preparation this week. There wasn’t a noticeable difference in anything. We all know what he went through off the field. There are guys, again, that believe in him and it’s a positive step in the right direction for me.”
Allen completed 18 of 31 passes for 175 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Most of the production came in the first half, when Allen guided Arkansas to three touchdowns to tie the game at 21-21.
He threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Hunter Henry to get the Razorbacks on the board in the first quarter. Allen helped them tie the game at 21-21 in the second quarter, when he threw a 17-yard pass to tight end A.J. Derby.
But the success didn’t continue in the second half. The interception came after defensive back Robenson Therezie hit Allen while he was throwing. The ball floated in the air, was caught by Jermaine Whitehead and returned for a touchdown.
The game-changing play gave Auburn a 35-21 lead.
“As soon as I threw it I got hit,” Allen said about the errant pass. “I felt it.”
Allen finished 9-for-17 for 69 yards with the interception in the second half.
The quarterback said it was a disappointing end to the week, but didn’t believe the truck fire had any affect on his preparation or performance. The incident happened early Monday morning and an arson investigation is ongoing.
“We always talk about distractions and you can’t let distractions take away from what you’re trying to get done,” Allen said. “I think it really didn’t affect anyone. It didn’t affect me. It didn’t affect the team.
“We were able to get what we needed to get done. It just didn’t translate.”
Auburn and its fans were ready for the opener. But apparently there were some issues with Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Arkansas and Auburn played the first half without a working clock. Referee Hubert Owens kept track on the field and regularly announced how much time was left. The malfunction was fixed for the second half.
But that wasn’t it.
There also was an elevator issue that kept the Arkansas coaching staff working in the box from getting down to the locker room for halftime. Bielema said the coaches in the box — which included offensive coordinator Jim Chaney — were stuck.
It complicated Arkansas’ halftime plans with the game tied 21-21. Bielema called it a “little glitch.”
“Our coaches never made it down from half,” Bielema said. “They were stuck in the elevator. Had a little audible there we had to deal with. Had to get that connection worked out, but I think the great thing was the kids had big eyes, they had ears. They were locked into what was going on.
“It is what it is. Just had to roll with the flow. … You look forward to coming down here and meeting as a staff and getting on the same page and we were able to communicate by phone. I’m not trying to make a bigger deal of it than what it was. They just weren’t able to get down there.”
The game was temporarily suspended because of lightning with 9:55 remaining in the fourth quarter Saturday.
Officials stopped the game after Auburn tacked on a field goal to take a 38-21 lead. Both teams were sent to their locker rooms, while fans were encouraged to leave the stadium until the storm passed.
The delay lasted one hour, 28 minutes.
Arkansas couldn’t move the football after the delay, while Auburn ran out the clock behind running back Cameron Artis-Payne and its ground game.
Auburn wasn’t sure Therezie would be available for the season opener because of an eligibility issue. But the senior safety was cleared to play Friday and made one of the biggest plays of the game Saturday.
Therezie’s big hit on Allen forced the junior to throw an errant pass that landed in Whitehead’s hands in the third quarter. Whitehead returned the interception xx yards for a touchdown to give Auburn a 35-21 lead.
Therezie also forced a fumble on Arkansas’ next possession when he jarred the ball out of running back Jonathan Williams’ hands. Williams recovered the ball, but it led to a three-yard loss. Arkansas had to punt two plays later.
“He’s a freak,” Whitehead said. “He does a lot for the team. With all the experience he got last year, he feels a lot more comfortable. At practice, he knows exactly what’s going on. He’s definitely going to make something this year.”
Marshall Leaves, Returns
Arkansas’ running back trio was temporarily trimmed to two in the second quarter, when Korliss Marshall left the field with an arm injury. But the sophomore returned for the second half after the Hogs determined it was nothing more than a bruise.
Marshall had to leave the field after fumbling on a run play before halftime, but receiver Jared Cornelius recovered the fumble to help Arkansas retain possession. The Razorbacks ushered Marshall to the locker room, while Jonathan Williams capped the 97-yard touchdown drive with a 6-yard run to tie the game at 21-21.
Marshall returned in time for the second half kickoff. He rushed for 45 yards.
Don’t Field It
Arkansas cornerback D.J. Dean won the punt return job in preseason camp. But the sophomore cautioned that he wasn’t as elusive as former Razorback Joe Adams.
Dean looked a lot like Adams in the second quarter, when he fielded a punt inside the 5-yard line. But the results weren’t the same. Adams’ poor choice led to a 97-yard punt return against Ole Miss in 2011. Adams, meanwhile, was tackled at 7.
The mistake didn’t cost Arkansas, though. The Razorbacks marched downfield on the 93-yard drive to tie the game at 21-21.
Junior college transfer D’haquille Williams was expected to give Auburn more big-play ability at wide receiver this season. He had an impressive debut Saturday.
Williams caught 9 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown. Williams had a 62-yard reception late in the first quarter. He added an 18-yard touchdown catch a few plays later, helping Auburn build a 21-7 lead.
“He attacks the ball,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “There’s no doubt he can do some things with it after he catches the ball, too. We had a plan that if they played us a certain way we’d attack them with him in the middle of the field, so that was kind of what happened and he did a good job executing.”
Arkansas opened the season against a conference opponent for just the third time in school history Saturday, joining the 1980 and 1958 teams. Arkansas has lost all three games. … Auburn is one of 17 teams with its coaching staff intact from 2013. Three other Southeastern Conference teams are in the same boat. They are Ole Miss, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Arkansas has three new coaches this year. … Auburn set a school record by scoring 30 points or more in 10 straight games to conclude the 2013 season. That streak was extended on Saturday.