By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — KJ Jefferson ran for two touchdowns and passed for a third and Raheim Sanders rushed for 171 yards to lead Arkansas to a 41-27 victory over Auburn on Saturday in a battle to escape the bottom of the Southeastern Conference Western Division.
The Razorbacks (5-3, 2-3 SEC) snapped a six-game losing streak versus the Tigers (3-5, 1-4), who have dropped four games in a row.
“To come in here (and win) means everything,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said. “It means a lot. Now we’ve beaten every West team since I’ve been here except ‘Bama.”
The two teams came into the day tied with Texas A&M for last in the SEC West. But Auburn couldn’t stop Jefferson and Sanders or produce scores on offense when the game was still in doubt.
Much of Jordan-Hare Stadium had emptied before the Tigers’ final two touchdowns that served to make the final score more respectable.
Sanders set up the decisive touchdown with a 76-yard scamper down the left sideline late in the third quarter. Rashod Dubinion then scored the first of his two late touchdowns.
Jefferson completed 16 of 24 passes for 234 yards and stiff-armed safety Zion Puckett to the ground on his way to a 13-yard touchdown run.
“That was a big, big play in the game,” Pittman said. “He’s taken over the leadership of the team more and more each week and he had a heck of a game.”
Matt Landers caught four passes for 115 yards.
Auburn’s Robby Ashford was 24-of-33 passing for 285 yards and a touchdown, while rushing 19 times for 87 yards. Tailback Tank Bigsby was mostly contained aside from a 41-yard touchdown run.
Things snowballed for the Tigers after their opening drive of the third quarter ended with a sack and Isaiah Nichols’ blocked field goal, while down just 17-13.
Auburn coach Bryan Harsin, whose job security has been a hot topic all season, was left with another loss.
“I would hope no one’s happy about losing a game, simple as that,” Harsin said. “You put a lot of time and effort into preparing yourself. If it’s not painful when you lose, then you’ve got the wrong people.”
He said the only way to turn things around is in preparation and hard work. “Losing can be contagious and that’s scary,” Harsin said.
Arkansas outscored Auburn 14-0 in the third quarter, only the second time the Razorbacks have won that quarter.
“That’s kind of all we were talking about in the locker room, emphasizing the third quarter,” Razorbacks linebacker Bumper Pool said. “If we win the third quarter, we win the game.”
Arkansas: It was a needed win for a team once ranked in the Top 10, which has rebounded from a three-game skid with two victories. Jefferson and Sanders continue to be a formidable 1-2 punch.
Auburn: Has lost eight of the last nine games against SEC teams, falling to two games below .500 for the first time in a decade. It just adds to the woes for the embattled Harsin, whose fate has been in limbo pending Auburn’s hiring of an athletic director.
Arkansas had 216 of its 286 rushing yards in the second half. “I think we wore them down,” Pittman said. The Tigers have allowed 1,026 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground the past three games.
Auburn’s public address announcer announced freshman quarterback Holden Geriner as the starter in the pre-game lineups. Ashford played the entire game.
Arkansas hosts Liberty on Saturday.
Auburn visits Mississippi State on Saturday night.