FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Auburn’s defensive problems were so substantial, so across the board in a 44-23 loss to Arkansas that defensive coordinator Ted Roof had a tough time getting specific with the target of his disappointment.
“There were a lot of things we needed to do,” Roof said. “I don’t think it comes down to one thing.”
The Tigers were gouged by Bobby Petrino’s Razorbacks for 495 yards Saturday. Auburn hadn’t allowed that many points since Georgia put up 45 in the “Blackout” game in 2007.
“I don’t think they were doing anything special,” linebacker Adam Herring said. “At times, we were a step behind and that hurt us.”
Arkansas did it in a variety of ways. Quarterback Ryan Mallett was as good as advertised, going 27-for-34 for 274 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
“He throws the deep ball as well as anybody and he certainly proved that today,” Roof said.
The strong-armed quarterback did it with a hodgepodge of wideouts. Joe Adams, the team’s leading receiver, was a late scratch because of an injury suffered late in the week. Jarius Wright, the Hogs’ third-leading receiver, left with a concussion.
Plenty of other players stepped in. Nearly forgotten tight end D.J. Williams, a preseason All-SEC pick, caught six passes for 57 yards, including a 5-yard grab on a play-action fake that sent Arkansas into halftime with a 27-3 lead.
Greg Childs, the team’s other regular starter at receiver, had five catches for 85 yards and a touchdown. Six other players had at least one reception.
Smith hurts Auburn again
But Petrino wasn’t completely pass-happy. Arkansas ran for a season-best 221 yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and scoring four times on the ground.
Struggling tailback Michael Smith, who entered the day with only 180 rushing yards in the first four games, ran for a season-high 145 to go with a touchdown. He had 101 yards by halftime.
It’s nothing new for the diminutive senior. He ran for 176 yards against Auburn in last year’s upset at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“Mike is just a pretty good overall runner,” said Auburn linebacker Craig Stevens, who played against him in high school. “He’s small and has got great vision.”
The Tigers, who entered the game in the middle of the pack nationally in both scoring defense (23.8 ppg) and total defense (344.2 ypg), have now given up 400 or more yards in three of their six games this season.
Despite that yardage, Auburn has hung its hat on disruption, whether it it is by forcing turnovers or pressuring the quarterback.
Saturday, it forced one turnover, a pick by Walt McFadden that didn’t lead to any points. The Tigers registered only one sack, by backup Antoine Carter in the fourth quarter after Auburn already trailed 41-23.
“We just didn’t come out ready to play,” Stevens said.