Joe Medley Commentary: Defense gave Tigers upper hand

November 2, 2013 

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. --Auburn's 35-17 handling of Arkansas on Saturday was billed as Gus vs. Bret, and there was some of that.

There was talk of "Filmgate" and something about the "swinging gate," which made an appearance at Razorback Stadium.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, an Arkansas native, might have surrendered moral high-ground in the debate about fast-paced offenses when Tigers linebacker Anthony Swain seemed to fake an injury in the fourth quarter.

But for all talk about the contrast between head coaches and all cameras that followed their handshakes, the game came down to a defensive coordinator slamming seemingly wide-open gates shut.

Ellis Johnson's Auburn defense rendered everything else a sideshow with two crucial turnovers and a goal-line stand that gave Auburn the upper-hand early.

And don't worry. Auburn's bend-but-don't-break defense surely appeared on film. The Tigers have done it all season.

But first, the sideshow.

A huddle of cameras formed around Malzahn and Bielema during the customary pregame meeting between head coaches. The cameras were there for the postgame handshake.

After complaining publicly that film sent by Auburn's coaches didn't reflect the Tigers' "swinging gate" formation on extra points, Bielema called it in the fourth quarter. The fake field goal -- which Bielema said he calls "Buehner Field Goal," as in Brian Buehner, the kid who completed the pass -- set up Arkansas' final touchdown.

Score one for Bielema, but it was redemption for the onsides kick he called in the second quarter.

The Razorbacks had just gotten a Zach Hocker field goal to cut Auburn's lead to 7-3. Their power-running offense was working against Auburn's defense.

It wasn't desperation time, but it seemed Arkansas' coach wanted to put one on the coach from Arkansas.

Auburn's JaViere Mitchell recovered. Tack on the off-sides penalty, and the Tigers needed to cover just 38 yards for a 14-3 lead.

Score one for Malzahn, but the Gus Bus might have given a few debate points back later.

Remember SEC media days, when Bielema went loud and proud with talk about alleged injury risks posed by fast-paced offenses like Malzahn's? Remember when Malzahn fired back something about fake injuries?

It sure looked like one of Malzahn's players faked one, right after Bielema's swinging-gate fake gave Arkansas first-and-goal at Auburn's 2-yard line in the fourth quarter. In the downtime between plays, Swain walked, stood then dropped to the end zone turf.

The home crowd booed.

Malzahn insisted after the game that Swain "got hurt, and we went and got him," also that "we don't tell our kids to fake."

Still, could it have been that the coach from Arkansas wanted to give Arkansas' coach a taste of his medicine, right after Bielema seemingly made a statement with the swinging-gate fake?

This much we know … both head coaches' offensive styles acquitted themselves.

Arkansas' defense struggled with Malzahn's hurry-up offense.

The tried-and-true read option allowed Auburn running back Tre Mason to turn out 168 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

Auburn's defense had its issues with Bielema's physical, conventional running offense, spending 34 minutes and 14 seconds on the field.

The difference in this game was that Malzahn had Johnson's defense, which found a way to keep Bielema's offense from turning yards into points.

Just when it looked like Arkansas would take the game's opening drive down Auburn's throat to the end zone, Arkansas starting quarterback Brandon Allen left the game after being stepped on. Auburn's Dee Ford tipped a pass from backup AJ Derby, and Cassanova McKinzy made a diving interception on the rebound.

The Tigers also came up with a fumble recovery when Derby bobbled a snap, setting up Auburn's first touchdown.

Then, backed up against its goal line in the second quarter, Auburn stuffed Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams twice in a row. A 17-play, 73-yard drive went for nothing, and Auburn carried its 14-3 lead into halftime.

The two touchdowns that didn't happen for Arkansas' coach swung the gate in favor of the coach from Arkansas.

So, let the record reflect the score at Malzahn 1, Bielema 0, and let's see what kind of fun they generate next year.

-- Joe Medley is a columnist for the Anniston Star. You can write to him at jmedley@annistonstar.com.

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