FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Chris Todd flipped a short screen pass to Mario Fannin, and Arkansas' Jerico Nelson was ready. He hit Fannin immediately for a 4-yard loss.
No. 17 Auburn -- and their fast-paced, powerful offense -- had been stopped in their tracks.
Michael Smith rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown, and the Razorbacks held off a late Auburn rally to hand the Tigers their first loss of the season, 44-23 on Saturday. Arkansas -- which gave up 52 points on this field less than a month ago -- shut down Auburn for most of the game.
"We weren't going to play soft with these guys," Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said.
The Tigers scored three touchdowns during a quick flurry toward the end of the third quarter, but by then the Razorbacks had built a commanding lead.
"They were an undefeated team, getting a lot of hype. They were ranked," Arkansas defensive lineman Jake Bequette said. "Any time a team like that comes into our house, we have to respond."
Arkansas (3-2, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) started the game by holding the Tigers to their first scoreless quarter of the season. The Razorbacks led 6-0 after one, then broke the game open in the second.
Nelson's big hit came in the second quarter. When he tackled Fannin, their facemasks appeared to become tangled, and Fannin ended up losing his helmet.
Smith gave Arkansas a 13-0 lead with a 25-yard scoring run. Fannin then fumbled away the kickoff, and Ryan Mallett threw a 16-yard pass to Greg Childs for Arkansas' second touchdown in 47 seconds.
At halftime it was 27-3, a surprising score since Auburn (5-1, 2-1) came in averaging 41 points a game.
"You can't play like we did today and win in the SEC," said Gene Chizik, who lost for the first time as Auburn's coach.
Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was a successful high school coach in northwest Arkansas, and he was the Razorbacks' offensive coordinator in 2006. After leaving the Hogs, he spent two years on the Tulsa staff before heading to Auburn.
Malzahn lost to his former school for the second straight year. Last season, his offense at Tulsa scored in every quarter before coming up empty in the fourth period of a November loss in Fayetteville.
"With Gus, it's like rolling the dice," Robinson said. "For the first eight plays, we didn't see anything he had done in the previous five games. Not a thing."
Whether they were surprised or not, the Razorbacks looked prepared, and their defense has come a long way since a 52-41 home loss to Georgia on Sept. 19. Meanwhile, Arkansas' offense continues to click for coach Bobby Petrino. Smith played his best game of the season before hurting his right leg in the third quarter. Mallett went 24 of 37 for 274 yards and two touchdowns with an interception.
Mallett's 4-yard touchdown run made it 34-3 in the third quarter before Auburn scored three touchdowns in just over five minutes. Ben Tate scored on a 1-yard run, and after an Arkansas punt, he broke free around the right side for a 60-yard touchdown. The Tigers then held on fourth down and took over at their own 34. Terrell Zachery immediately went 60 yards on a reverse, and Onterio McCalebb scored on a 3-yard run a short while later.
Suddenly, it was 34-23, and Auburn had rushed for 207 yards in the third quarter alone.
Dennis Johnson helped the Razorbacks regain momentum with a 70-yard kickoff return, and Broderick Green's 3-yard touchdown run made it 41-23 with 11:22 remaining.
Johnson also returned a kickoff 50 yards in the first half.
"Any time it looked like it was going to be close, Dennis changed the field position," Petrino said.
Tate ran for 184 yards and two touchdowns, but Auburn's Chris Todd was only 15 of 28 for 133 yards.
"We had no movement during the first half. It took us some time to warm up today," Todd said. "Today was an eye opener."
Arkansas was without wide receiver Joe Adams, who Petrino said had a mild stroke earlier in the week. Adams was held out of the game, although he did wear his jersey. His status going forward is unclear.