The 17th-ranked Tigers -- and their fast-paced, powerful offense -- had been stopped in their tracks.
Michael Smith rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown, and the Razorbacks held off a late Auburn rally to hand the Tigers their first loss of the season, 44-23 Saturday. Arkansas -- which gave up 52 points on this field less than a month ago -- shut down Auburn for most of the game.
"We weren't going to play soft with these guys," Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said.
The Tigers scored three touchdowns during a quick flurry toward the end of the third quarter, but by then the Razorbacks had built a commanding lead.
"They were an undefeated team, getting a lot of hype. They were ranked," Arkansas defensive lineman Jake Bequette said. "Any time a team like that comes into our house, we have to respond."
Arkansas (3-2, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) started the game by holding the Tigers to their first scoreless quarter of the season. The Razorbacks led 6-0 after one, then broke the game open in the second.
Nelson's big hit came in the second quarter. When he tackled Fannin, their facemasks appeared to become tangled, and Fannin ended up losing his helmet.
At halftime it was 27-3, a surprising score since Auburn (5-1, 2-1) came in averaging 41 points a game.
"You can't play like we did today and win in the SEC," said Gene Chizik, who lost for the first time as Auburn's coach.
Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was a successful high school coach in northwest Arkansas, and he was the Razorbacks' offensive coordinator in 2006. After leaving the Hogs, he spent two years on the Tulsa staff before heading to Auburn.
Malzahn lost to his former school for the second straight year. Last season, his offense at Tulsa scored in every quarter before coming up empty in the fourth period of a November loss in Fayetteville.
"With Gus, it's like rolling the dice," Robinson said. "For the first eight plays, we didn't see anything he had done in the previous five games. Not a thing."
Whether they were surprised or not, the Razorbacks looked prepared, and their defense has come a long way since a 52-41 home loss to Georgia on Sept. 19. Meanwhile, Arkansas' offense continues to click for coach Bobby Petrino. Smith played his best game of the season before hurting his right leg in the third quarter. Mallett went 24 of 37 for 274 yards and two touchdowns with an interception.
Mallett's 4-yard touchdown run made it 34-3 in the third quarter before Auburn scored three touchdowns in just over five minutes. Ben Tate scored on a 1-yard run, and after an Arkansas punt, he broke free around the right side for a 60-yard touchdown. The Tigers then held on fourth down and took over at their own 34. Terrell Zachery immediately went 60 yards on a reverse, and Onterio McCalebb scored on a 3-yard run a short while later.
Suddenly, it was 34-23, and Auburn had rushed for 207 yards in the third quarter alone.
Johnson also returned a kickoff 50 yards in the first half.
"Any time it looked like it was going to be close, Dennis changed the field position," Petrino said.
Tate ran for 184 yards and two touchdowns, but Auburn's Chris Todd was only 15 of 28 for 133 yards.
"We had no movement during the first half. It took us some time to warm up today," Todd said. "Today was an eye opener."
Arkansas was without wide receiver Joe Adams, who Petrino said had a mild stroke earlier in the week. Adams was held out of the game, although he did wear his jersey. His status going forward is unclear.
Bowden: Thankful after 'tough' COVID-19 bout
Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who was released from the hospital last week after a weeklong stay for the coronavirus, thanked his doctors, family and fans their support and prayers in a statement released Wednesday.
The coronavirus and college sports: NCAA reopening plans, latest news, program cuts, more
Postponed and canceled games, positive tests sending coaches and players into isolation ... yes, it's still 2020. Here's the latest on how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the college sports world.
How college football is handling its COVID-19 protocols one month into the season
The coronavirus pandemic forced college football to reimagine everything about how the sport is conducted. Here's how things are going a month into the season.
Source: LSU football losing eight scholarships and banning Odell Beckham Jr. for two years over improper payments
LSU has self-imposed penalties related to the NCAA's investigation into improper booster payments to its football players, a university spokesman confirmed to ESPN on Wednesday.
The numbers behind Ohio State and the Big Ten's return
Brad Edwards crunches the numbers on the top teams in the Big Ten ahead of their return to play.
USC commitment and ESPN 300 quarterback Jake Garcia transferring to Grayson High outside Atlanta
USC quarterback commitment Jake Garcia, the No. 18 prospect in the ESPN 300, is transferring from Valdosta High School to Grayson High in suburban Atlanta, his father confirmed to ESPN.