Auburn’s month-long road trip resumed Saturday the way you’d expect an excursion to Arkansas would go: with a rout.
Looking to shake off the memories of a nightmare at The Swamp while tuning up for a showdown on the Bayou, the 11th-ranked Tigers poured it on for a 51-10 victory.
You’d expect nothing less.
While there is alleged improvement, Arkansas still hasn’t won a conference game since — when? The Eisenhower administration?
And with Gus Malzahn returning to his home state, this one was gift wrapped from the get-go. Three plays in, Marlon Davidson’s quarterback sack of Ben Hicks forced a fumble Davidson recovered himself at the Razorbacks’ 22-yard line. Three plays after that, Bo Nix crashed into the end zone, ending any possibility of drama.
I’m not sure this victory answered any questions. Is there life after Boobee Whitlow (or at least until he returns from injury)? A committee of running backs and receivers shared the burden, routinely going 5 yards a pop.
Concern about the freshman Nix remains legit, but he looked much, much better. Most noticeable was his accuracy on deep balls. After Auburn jumped to a 17-0 lead, before Arkansas mustered its initial first down, the Tigers stalled for the rest of the first half. But Nix opened the second half off with a pair of perfect touchdown strikes: 48 yards to Seth Williams and 28 to Anthony Schwartz to answer Arkansas’ first score. He would add one more before the day was done.
That’s palpable progress.
Against an undersized Arkansas front, the Auburn defense controlled the game. The one notable exception came when Arkansas’ best player, tight end Cheyenne O’Grady, found a seam on a 45-yard catch and rumble.
The challenge dead ahead will be on another level. The LSU offense has been unstoppable, but its defense has been suspect. LSU will be favored, of course.
It should be. Baton Rouge, for Auburn at least, has been a house of horrors. Auburn hasn’t won there since 1999, months before Bo Nix took his first breath and while Gus Malzahn was still learning the ropes at Shiloh Christian.
This Auburn team is better than what it showed against Florida. It is as road tested as any program in the nation.
Next week’s trip is a test like no other. LSU hasn’t faced a defense in Auburn’s league. But has Auburn’s offense progressed enough to pull off the upset?
Doug Segrest, a former SEC beat reporter, is a freelance columnist for the Montgomery Advertiser.