AUBURN, Ala. - The Auburn offense didn't slow down a bit, even with Nick Marshall a spectator for half the game.
Jeremy Johnson passed for 243 yards and two touchdowns in the first half and Marshall returned from suspension with a 19-yard scoring run to lift No. 6 Auburn to a 45-21 opening victory over Arkansas on Saturday. Plus, Cameron Artis-Payne and junior college transfer D'haquille Williams had huge games.
Johnson supplied the big passing numbers but the Tigers seemed to get a spark when the Heisman Trophy candidate Marshall came in after the half.
"Nick's our leader," coach Gus Malzahn said, adding that Marshall remains the starter. "All our players respond to him but overall I thought the key in the second half was our defense really stepping up."
The Tigers scored the final 24 points after the Razorbacks managed to force a halftime deadlock. The game was delayed 1 hour, 28 minutes due to lightning in the area during the fourth quarter and Auburn added one more touchdown after that.
Marshall, who led Auburn to the SEC title last season and the national championship game, served the punishment for getting ticketed in July for possession of a small amount of marijuana. The much-hyped Williams supplied the most electrifying performance with nine catches for 154 yards in his debut, including a 62-yard bomb and an 18-yard touchdown from Johnson.
"I didn't even know that I was going to play the full half," Johnson said. "That's just how the game went."
Artis-Payne rushed for a career-high 177 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries after replacing Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason. Jermaine Whitehead returned an interception off Brandon Allen 33 yards for a touchdown.
Allen completed 18 of 31 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns, five days after his truck was burned early Monday morning. Alex Collins ran for 68 yards on 10 carries.
"We got the rhythm rolling in the first half, but could not keep things moving forward in the second half," Allen said.
Auburn outgained the Razorbacks 595-328, allowing just 61 yards in the second half after a shaky start defensively. It was the sixth-most yards Auburn has gained against an SEC team.
The Tigers, who led the nation in rushing last season, gained 302 yards on the ground after managing just 68 by halftime.
"Overall, obviously, two quarters of football we can live with, and two that we can't," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said.
Marshall watched from the sidelines until warming up on an exercise bike before going into the game. His touchdown run was the only time Arkansas gave him room to run. He was just 4-of-6 passing for 50 yards while gaining 19 yards on eight carries, counting a sack.
Marshall darted up the middle for a touchdown after coming into the game to start the second half, giving the Tigers a 28-21 lead. He also had a 28-yard third-down completion to a leaping Melvin Ray, who made a one-handed grab.
Arkansas stopped Auburn on the next two drives to stay within striking distance. Then Robenson Therezie hit Allen as he threw to force a badly underthrown ball. Whitehead picked it off and raced for the end zone.
Therezie had been cleared to play Friday night after unspecified questions about his eligibility.
Before that play, Allen had been mostly holding his own after struggling most of last season with shoulder problems. He led the Razorbacks back from a 21-7 deficit with two second quarter touchdown drives. Jonathan Williams' 6-yard run capped a 93-yard march and tied the game at 21-21 with 4:28 left.
"I think the big swing was when BA got hit as he was throwing the ball there," Bielema said. "I thought he played a pretty clean game, was on his reads, on his routes."
Johnson completed his first eight passes. He threw for a 49-yard touchdown to Ray, a former minor league baseball player, and an 18-yarder to Williams.
"We've said before that we feel like he could start for most teams in college," Malzahn said. "I think everybody saw that (Saturday)."