by | CBS Sports

Auburn shows its mettle -- and offensive punch -- in shootout

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AUBURN, Ala. -- We came here Saturday to watch a battle between two of the most productive quarterbacks in college football. We expected a shootout. We expected a bunch of offense and we certainly expected to be here a while.

But my goodness, we never expected this.

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In the highest scoring non-overtime game in SEC history, Auburn used three big plays on defense in the final 14 minutes to turn a six-point deficit into a 65-43 victory in front of a drained and delirious 87,451 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

When it was over Tiger coach Gene Chizik had only one word for what he had just seen.

"Resiliency," he said. "We just found another way to win a football game. We certainly struggled at times but when the game was on the line we made the plays we had to make to win. I don't think you can ask more of a football team."

Auburn came into this game with three victories by a field goal and one by eight points. In each of those games the Tigers got the turnovers they needed in the fourth quarter to win. Never have they been more opportunistic this season than they were against the Razorbacks.

Until the final 14 minutes, this game looked like Auburn's worst nightmare.

Mallett, who led the SEC in passing (349.7 ypg), was knocked out of the game late in the first half when he was hit in the head. He did not return. But in his place sophomore Tyler Wilson absolutely torched a hapless Auburn secondary and put the Razorbacks in front, 43-37, with 14:09 left.

"That kid was incredible," Chizik said of Wilson, who completed 25 of 34 passes for 332 yards and four touchdowns. "You've got to take your hat off to him."

But with the game and Auburn's top 10 ranking on the line, the Tigers' defense forced three turnovers. One was a 47-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by Zac Etheridge which gave Auburn a 51-43 lead and completely changed the momentum. Then there were two interceptions that set up touchdowns, and Auburn walked off with a 22-point win.

"I know it was painful to watch at times but I'm proud of my guys," defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. "We gave up a lot of points and a lot of big plays. But when it came crunch time they delivered."

For the game Arkansas ran 77 plays for 566 yards and scored 43 points. And still lost.

Most Points in SEC History
Pts Final Year
134 Arkansas 71, Kentucky 63 (7OT) 2003
114 Arkansas 58, Ole Miss 56 (7OT) 2001
108 Auburn 65, Arkansas 43 2010
105 Georgia 56, Auburn 49 (4OT) 1996
104 South Carolina 65, Miss. State 39 1995
102 Tennessee 52, Kentucky 50 (4OT) 1999

"I really thought we would find a way to win the game but we came up short," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. "Obviously turnovers affected in the fourth quarter and that was the difference in the game."

The reason Auburn won was that in a shootout of this magnitude, the Tigers were more resourceful. In addition to the three turnovers they forced in the fourth quarter, Auburn blocked a punt and returned a kickoff 99 yards to set up another score.

"Man it was like a heavyweight fight out there," quarterback Cameron Newton said. "We just kept trading punches and fighting back. And when it was all over we were still standing. This team will not quit. We will find a way to win."

If this were a heavyweight fight, Newton -- Auburn's junior college transfer -- splendidly played the role of Muhammad Ali. For the seventh time this season he was simply a force of nature on the field. The SEC's leading rusher and the nation's second-most efficient passer ran for 188 yards and three touchdowns while completing 10 of 14 passes for 140 yards and another touchdown. When the game was over, Newton jumped into the Auburn student section to celebrate. The man literally did it all. He's accounted for 25 touchdowns (13 passing, 12 rushing) in seven games. The Auburn record is 26 by quarterback Pat Sullivan in 1971. Sullivan won the Heisman Trophy that season.

Here's a note for all of Heisman voters out there: go ahead and beat the crowd and put this guy in your top three. While you're at it, you probably should just go ahead and put him at No. 1.

"I haven't seen everybody play but I can tell you this. No. 2 is one spectacular football player,” Chizik said. "I'm not one to go out on a limb but everybody sees it."

Now Auburn (7-0, 4-0 SEC) should only improve on its No. 7 ranking with No. 9 LSU coming here next week for a top 10 showdown of unbeatens. First place in the SEC West will be on the line. And when that game is over, there will be only one undefeated team left in the SEC. You would have to say that the stakes going forward are pretty big.

"We just believe in each other," Newton said.

And with good reason.

Watch The Tony Barnhart Show each Tuesday at 9 p.m. on the CBS College Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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