AUBURN -- A 99-yard kick return, a blocked punt, blanket kickoff coverage -- Auburn’s special teams played a huge part in the Tigers’ 65-43 win over Arkansas Saturday night.
Sanders puts a big hit on Hamilton.
“They were spectacular,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said.
WIth a 17-14 lead in the second quarter, Auburn freshman Antonio Goodwin came clean off the end and blocked Dylan Breeding’s punt, which Auburn recovered at the 25-yard line.
Three plays later, Onterio McCalebb dashed around the right end for a 13-yard touchdown and a 24-14 lead.
“The coaches came up with the perfect blocking scheme. I saw the hole and I was able to make a long run,” McCalebb said.
Demond Washington added 122 yards on four kickoff returns as Auburn averaged 68.1 yards on seven returns.
Arkansas cut Auburn’s lead to 30-28 in the third quarter with a touchdown pass. On the ensuing kickoff, McCalebb broke free down the left side returning the kick 99 yards before being tripped up at the 1-yard line.
Three plays later, quarterback Cam Newton leaped over the top for a touchdown and a 37-28 Auburn lead.
“We got beat in the kicking game,” Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. “...It was a big difference in field position, and made a big difference in the outcome of the game.”
Auburn’s kick coverage was excellent, holding the Razorbacks to a 17.9 average on 10 returns. Arkansas’ longest return was 32 yards. Emory Blake, Eric Smith and Demetruce McNeal had two special teams tackles apiece for Auburn.
Craig Sanders added one special teams tackle including a big hit on Arkansas return specialist Cobi Hamilton.
“We call ourselves we-fence,” Auburn special teams coach Jay Boulware said. “You have the offense, you have the defense and we have the we-fense.”
Blake, McNeal and Sanders, along with Jonathan Evans are the first inductees into what Boulware calls his silent warrior club.
“Guys that nobody knows that much about but yet they come in week in and week out and do a tremendous job,” he said.
Placekicker Wes Byrum made all three of his field goal attempts from 43, 26 and 28 yards, and averaged 67.9 yards including one touchback on 11 kickoffs.
A senior, Byrum has made a school-record 54 career field goals. He has scored 309 points, three shy of the all-time record set by John Vaughn from 2003-06.