After sloppy start, Auburn tops SEC West, as once expected

Updated: October 13, 2003, 2:25 AM ET

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- After seeming to disappear at the start of the season, the Auburn Tigers are where many expected them to be halfway through the season -- atop the Southeastern Conference.

With a 10-3 victory at No. 7 Arkansas, Auburn has a 3-0 SEC record with half its season behind it. Ole Miss is the only other team in the conference without a league loss.

"The fans here are amazing and the atmosphere was tough, but we overcame the obstacles and pulled out a win," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "That's what we came for and it feels good."

Auburn, the preseason favorite to win the SEC West and a challenger for the conference title, started the season ranked sixth but dropped out of the rankings after awful losses to Southern Cal and Georgia Tech.

After two games, the Tigers had yet to score a touchdown and were averaging 1.5 points per game.

They only needed one touchdown on Saturday as the Auburn defense continually turned back an Arkansas rushing game that led the league with nearly 250 yards per game. The Tigers are now 4-2 overall.

"Auburn wanted to stop the run and, for the most part, I suppose they did," said Arkansas running back Cedric Cobbs, who was held to 78 yards, 62 yards below his league-leading 140-yard average.

"It wasn't just the offense or the defense. Everybody played up to their potential," said Tuberville, whose team returned to the rankings at No. 19 after the victory. Arkansas fell to No. 11.

Before Saturday's game, Arkansas' average starting field position was its 39 yard line. Against the Tigers, Arkansas (4-1, 1-1 SEC) started its average drive 14 yards farther back.

The extra distance mattered. Arkansas had three drives of more than 50 yards, but missed a field goal after driving to the Auburn 17, turned the ball over on downs at Auburn's 34 and fumbled the ball away at the Auburn 8.

"There were so many instances where we stopped ourselves after we gained momentum," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said.

"We were wishing so bad we could get in the end zone because that would put pressure on them," Nutt said. "If we could have gotten 10, with our crowd and the way our fans were for homecoming, I thought it would be a tremendous lift."

Auburn scored its only touchdown -- a 6-yard run by Carnell Williams Jr. -- to end a 41-yard drive that started on a personal foul penalty on Tom Crowder, who hit Auburn punt returner Tre Smith out of bounds.

Auburn's only longer drives included a 62-yard drive for a late field goal, and a 55-yard drive to start the game that ended with quarterback Jason Campbell's first interception in four games.

Nutt grumbled Sunday about two holding penalties called against receiver George Wilson. A third-quarter infraction canceled a 68-yard Cedric Cobbs run to the Auburn 19 and one in the fourth quarter brought back a 78-yard TD run by quarterback Matt Jones.

"If I could have just one of those penalties back ..., I think it's a different game," Nutt said. For the second one, Nutt on Sunday disagreed with the officials.

"It was a good block," Nutt said. (Saturday, Nutt called Wilson's block on Rosegreen a "downfield tackle" and said it was legal.)

"I've told our players since two-a-days that you're going to get a bad call. They're human and they're going to make mistakes. That is what is frustrating," Nutt said Sunday.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index