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'edge back' with 3rd-down success


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Auburn gets 'edge back' with 3rd-down success on both sides of ball against Arkansas


Third downs doomed Auburn during its letdown against LSU a little more than a week ago, but Gus Malzahn's team flipped the script during its bludgeoning of Arkansas on Saturday.

After the Tigers put together their worst third-down effort of the season during their 20-point collapse in Death Valley, they followed it up with one of their most efficient third-down performances of the year during the 52-20 win against Arkansas.

"We tried to get as good of a third-down plan as possible," Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham said.

Auburn converted 9-of-15 third-down attempts against the Razorbacks, which marked a sharp improvement from its 3-of-14 effort against LSU, when a conservative offense with predictable play-calling produced several third-and-long situations. Those resulted in 12 pass attempts and no called runs until early in the fourth quarter against LSU.

That approach changed against Arkansas, though it was also a product of the way the game unfolded, as Auburn averaged just 4 yards to gain on third downs. Auburn ran the ball on nine of its 15 third-down opportunities, converting seven of them, while calling six passes and converting two -- a 50-yard screen to Darius Slayton in the first quarter and a 26-yarder to Slayton in the third.

Auburn averaged 9.9 yards per play on third down against Arkansas, including 6.8 yards per rush attempt.

"They gave us a lot of good looks tonight for the plays that we wanted to run, and we just tried to execute," Stidham said.

The third-down turnaround on offense was a key for Auburn's bounceback effort, but the defense was even more dominant on third downs against the Razorbacks.

Auburn limited Arkansas to 5-of-16 on third-down conversions and didn't allow conversions until early in the third quarter, holding the Razorbacks to 0-for-7 on third-down opportunities in the first half.

"That was impressive," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "The defense did a good job. That quarterback (Cole Kelley) is a big man. He's really big, and he falls forward a couple yards. He's hard to get to, too. I thought our defense did a really good job."

Among those seven third-down stops in the first half were three that forced three-and-outs, including two pivotal stops in the second quarter that helped turn the game.

The first came after Auburn drove down inside the Arkansas 5-yard line and went for it on fourth-and-1 from the 2. Kerryon Johnson went airborne over the mass of linemen at the line of scrimmage in an attempt to get the first down but was stuffed, resulting in a turnover on downs. Auburn's defense answered with a three-and-out that gave the Tigers the ball at the Arkansas 41-yard line.

On Auburn's ensuing drive, Stidham threw an interception on a third-down out route intended for Will Hastings midway through the second quarter of a one-possession game. Auburn's defense stepped up and forced a three-and-out near midfield to prevent Arkansas from taking advantage of the turnover.

"That was one of the key things the whole game, that they got the three-and-outs right after that," Malzahn said. "Because if we had given them any momentum right there, would've gotten the crowd in it. That was huge right there."

The Razorbacks didn't convert a third down until Devwah Whaley had a 2-yard run on third-and-1 during Arkansas' first drive of the second half.

Two of Auburn's season-high-tying six sacks also came on third downs in the second half, with Derrick Brown sacking Kelley and forcing a fumble that Arkansas recovered in the third quarter, and Jeff Holland and Marlon Davidson teaming up for another sack that resulted in a fumble that the Tigers fell on.

Although Arkansas converted 5-of-9 third downs after halftime, four of them came when the game was out of reach and two came in the fourth quarter, when Auburn's reserves were on the field late in the blowout.

"It was big," safety Daniel Thomas said. "That's what coach had been preaching all week. We got to get our edge back and get our third-down conversions back up. That's what we did."

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde

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You've got to look at our opponent here. Arky is a bad football team this year and were playing with their backup qb. Their defense has been terrible the last 2 years. Using Arky as a measuring stick for progress is asinine. Our defense is a top 10-15 defense in the country; the reason they performed so poorly against LSU in the second half is b/c they were worn out from being on the field too long b/c of the pathetic performance of the offense (thanks to Gus). Everybody who is a knowledgeable AU football fan knows that the remainder of our success this season hinges on whether or not Gus finally decides to stay completely out of the offense. It's not hard to see when he is not staying out of it. Almost always results in an L.

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yes argo i understand. i know arkie is bad i was just posting the article for something new to read.

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42 minutes ago, aubiefifty said:

yes argo i understand. i know arkie is bad i was just posting the article for something new to read.

Yeah. No reflection on you. I have seen many of your posts and know you are a knowledgeable fan. It's just these reporters seem to be either pointing out the obvious lately, or just writing meaningless articles to fill their quota.

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