AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s special teams finally lived up to its name during Saturday’s 65-43 win against Arkansas.
The Tigers blocked a punt, nearly returned a kickoff for a touchdown and had smothering coverage on their return units, the best all-around special teams they have had this year.
“They were spectacular,” Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said.
It started with freshman Antonio Goodwin’s punt block in the second quarter, the Tigers’ first since Jerraud Powers blocked one against Florida in 2006.
Goodwin got to Arkansas punter Dylan Breeding, redirecting his kick out of bounds at the Arkansas 25 and setting up a Wes Byrum field goal.
“It was wide open,” Goodwin said. “I came through unblocked and took advantage of it.”
The Tigers’ lagging return game got a boost. Demond Washington had a 47-yard return early on. Onterio McCalebb outdid him in the third quarter, taking a kickoff 99 yards before getting tripped up at the Arkansas 1.
“Usually, when they kick it deep in the end zone, we down it,” McCalebb said. “But I saw that hole, so I had to get in it. Once I got through there, it was off to the races.”
After letting Kentucky’s Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke get loose for a couple of big returns last week, the Tigers clamped down on kickoff coverage.
Arkansas averaged 17.9 yards on 10 kickoff returns. Only one went for more than 21 yards.
“We’ve been harping on those guys,” special-teams coordinator Jay Boulware said. “Kickoff coverage is just open-field run fit. That’s all it is. And those guys have to get in particular gaps. And, when we do that, we’re going to cover anybody in the country.”
Safety Aairon Savage left the game with an apparent right ankle injury in the fourth quarter.
Chizik did not have a status update on him after the game, but any leg injury is a concern for a player who has missed two full seasons with ACL and Achilles’ injuries.
“We will know more tomorrow, but it breaks my heart,” Chizik said. “When I went out on the field and he is laying there and he is crying and he has tears in his eyes, that hurts me.
“This guy has done everything we’ve asked him to do to come back and be a football player at Auburn because he loves Auburn and he loves football, and that hurts.”
Running back Mike Dyer, an Arkansas native, got limited action after battling an ankle injury all week.
The freshman, who started three games and is the Tigers’ third-leading rusher, injured himself against Kentucky last week. He didn’t practice until Thursday, although coaches kept it under wraps.
Senior Mario Fannin started in his place, but Dyer got some late looks. He broke free for a 38-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Dyer also served as Auburn’s ball-security back on its final few plays, despite fumbling twice in the previous three games. He ran into the heart of the line on three plays as the Tigers ran out the clock with a 22-point lead.
Injury odds and ends
Ÿ Linebacker Eltoro Freeman, who has been nicked up, was in uniform but did not play. He didn’t travel to Kentucky last week.
Ÿ Kickoff coverage specialist Craig Sanders (concussion) played after sitting out last week. He had one special-teams tackle.
Ÿ Wide receiver DeAngelo Benton (ankle) was not in uniform and had his left foot in a protective boot after injuring himself at Kentucky.
Ÿ Wide receiver Trovon Reed (knee) was not in uniform, making it more likely that he will petition the NCAA for a medical hardship waiver to make this a redshirt season.
Twice as nice
Linebacker Josh Bynes, who had been teased by teammates for dropping sure interceptions this year, had two fourth-quarter interceptions Saturday. He now has three of Auburn’s six interceptions this season and seven for his career.
“Oh, my goodness,” quarterback Cam Newton said. “We need to try him at tight end.”
Byrum scored 17 points (three field goals, eight extra points), moving him within four points of John Vaughn’s all-time Auburn scoring record. … Byrum became the 21st player in SEC history to reach 300 career points. … Left tackle Lee Ziemba extended his consecutive starts streak to 45 games. He is four shy of Will Herring’s school record.