Bryan Harsin felt a certain sense of pride Saturday afternoon in Fayetteville, Ark.
It wasnt only that his team, on the road, secured its biggest win of the season and its first against a ranked opponent in three attempts. It was the manner in which the Tigers defeated the 17th-ranked Razorbacks, particularly on the stretch of their 38-23 victory.
Auburn set the scene, and Harsin wanted this offense to look like. Bo Nix scored a game-winning touchdown run on .12-play, 75-yard drive that took 6:11 off the clock. It was the combination of execution, balance, and play-calling that Harsin has envisioned for his team since taking over the program in December and bringing in offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.
That was a drive that, you know, I was very proud of, Harsin said. Coach Bobo and the offensive staff had a good plan to go into this game and hopefully have opportunities like that, as I mentioned earlier. But overall, yes, I mean, thats the way that we want to play. I think this is down to how we handled those situations.
Auburn's 38-23 victory over Arkansas was graded as a disappointment.
Auburn's big road victory against No. 17 Arkansas was marked by position-by-position grades.
The final drive put a smile on what was arguably an outstanding day of play-calling from Bobo, who had come under criticism for Auburns recent lack of offensive balance and finishing difficulties. On Saturday, however, the Tigers found both of them at Razorback Stadium.
After relying more on the passing attack in recent weeks 134 pass attempts versus 92 runs the three games prior to Saturday -- Auburn was more balanced from a play-calling perspective against Arkansas, even if the ground attack wasn't as effective as the team would like. Auburn ran the ball 35 times for 135 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Nix attempted just 26 passes, his lowest since Week 2 of the season.
Nix was also quick, passing 21 of those passes for 292 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He spread the ball around, with 10 different Auburn players recording at least one reception, further opening up the offense and preventing Arkansas from focusing on one or two key receivers.
Demetris Robertson, a wide receiver who plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers, said it was absolutely amazing. I mean, just everyone can get the ball, touch the football, everyone may get a piece of cake, you know what Im saying? It can only help the offense and the team to keep going and get positive yards, and our goal is to score touchdowns.
Auburn is now a straight-track contender thanks to Nix's outstanding road performances.
Bo Nix has been outstanding in three games since his second-half benching against Georgia State. Auburn has now won its first game of the season thanks to his latest performance.
Auburn did that Saturday, whether it was with quick strikes that provided a satisfying payoff for securing ties or whether or not it were methodical, sustained drives into the Arkansas defense.
Auburns first score against Arkansas came on its opening possession, which saw the Tigers march 75 yards over six plays, with Nix finding JaVarrius Johnson for a 39-yard touchdown. It was Auburns first opening drive touchdown since the 2019 Arkansas game, and it set the stage for the team s offensive execution throughout the day. It also gave Auburns offense some of the explosiveness that it has lacking in recent weeks.
Bobo opened a deep shot after deciding to switch tactics after Auburns defense forced shaky fourth-down stops on its side of the field. Bobo and Harsin decided to be aggressive after Auburn took over its own 29-yard lineand it paid off.
On the first play of the drive, Nix found Robertson for a 71-yard touchdown on stout passing ball that extended Auburns lead to 28-17.
Thats not always what we do, but we felt like that was something we had set up, we'd seen, and we hadn't even got to it, Harsin said. Coach Bobo made a great call, and the first play gives you t he chance to do that. They had seen an opportunity for that route to have a chance... Those are the ones you want to hit and get swagger like that and finish it in the end zone like we did. That really helped us gain momentum.
Auburn remained aggressive on the road against a ranked opponent even when the calls didnt pay off. Auburn held an 11-point lead late in the first half, but took a deeper shot downfield to try to consolidate its lead. Nix underthrown a ball down the sideline that was picked off, his only real error of the day, which Arkansas capitalized on with its own touchdown before halftime.
It wasnt a perfect game from that perspective, but Bobo was patient in what could be regarded as 'a pivotal moment for Year 1 of the Harsin era at Auburn'. His play-calling, coupled with the offense's much improved execution, ensured that the Tigers entered the bye week on a high note.
That was evident during the fourth quarter, as it became apparent during that stretch.
With 10:29 to play, Auburn increased its lead to eight points on a 29-yard Anders Carlson field goal. It was set up, in part, by another aggressive call downfield, this time on third-and-6 from the Arkansas 30-yard-line, that produced a defensive pass interference call to extend the drive.
Then came that final drive, after Auburns defense forced a three-and-out. Nix was 3-of-4 passing for 37 yards on the drive. The Tigers were able to move the ball well on the ground, as well. Bobo and Auburn had something up their sleeve when they faced third-and-3 from the Arkansas 26. The Tigers did a fake reverse for sweeping qb, using the misdirection to allow Nix to convert the third down with his legs. He picked up 6 yards to extend the drive.
Two plays later, he hit a dagger into Arkansas hopes. Auburn came out of an Arkansas timeout with an empty set at the 23-yard line and ran an RPO draw for Nix, who sprinted into the end zone to extend the lead to 15.
Throughout the game, you may mix in some passes, some explosive shots, and stuff like that, but at the end, we just wanted to run the ball, take up as much clock as possible, as well as gain yards on the ground, Nix said. Thats exactly what we did, he said.
The run game needs to find more consistency, but the proof of concept for Auburns offense and what it wants to accomplish under Harsin and Bobo is there. Now, its time to build on that throughout the bye week and into the home stretch of the season.
Overall, well take that, Harsin said. Well learn from it. Well apply it to the bye week and to what we need to do to get better.... This is how it looks. This is how we can get to these things through our preparation and hopefully continue to build on that.
Tom Green is an Alabama Media Group beat reporter for Auburn. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.