Not many fans envisioned such a lopsided result in the Birmingham Bowl between Auburn and Memphis, but there was little suspense after the teams went into halftime with the score tied.
Auburn scored three touchdowns in the second half and shut out an explosive Memphis offense to win, 31-10.
Here is the Auburn report card:
Auburn outgained Memphis in total yards 202-96 in the first half but did not have a lead to show for it at halftime.
Memphis converted 10 points off three Auburn interceptions, including a pick-six thrown by quarterback Sean White. The Auburn defense was doing its part, but the offense missed an opportunity to build a comfortable lead.
Auburn punted after a Memphis turnover to begin the third quarter and then things changed.
Junior quarterback Jeremy Johnson came off the bench to convert an 11-yard touchdown to Jason Smith for a 17-10 lead. That began a stretch of 21 unanswered points.
Despite the slow start, Auburn finished with 402 yards (251 rushing). That was more than enough with the way the defense played.
Memphis junior quarterback Paxton Lynch may be heading for the NFL draft, but he won’t have many highlights to add to his film from the Birmingham Bowl.
Auburn disrupted Lynch all game long, as he finished 16-of-37 on pass attempts for 108 yards and just his fourth interception of the season. He was also sacked twice.
Memphis averaged 510.4 total yards per game in the regular season, but managed a paltry 205 yards. Auburn didn’t miss a beat with interim defensive coordinator Lance Thompson.
The defense saved its best for last.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
The argument can be made that the special teams unit was the most consistent group on the team this season.
It was another solid performance, as sophomore kicker Daniel Carlson converted on his 23rd field goal of the season to open the scoring in the first quarter.
Junior punt returner Marcus Davis did not make any errors fielding six punts. His 56-yard punt return set up a 4-yard touchdown run by running back Jovon Robinson.
The score gave Auburn a commanding 31-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.
There were no egregious coaching decisions that affected the final outcome of the game. However, a few first-half calls may have kept the game closer than it should have been.
One questionable call resulted in a bad interception by wide receiver Jason Smith on a trick play. Another came on the decision to throw on fourth-and-2 from the Memphis 47-yard line. The play resulted in White’s pick-six and allowed Memphis to tie the game at 10.
The decision to start White for the first time in four games did not pan out, but the coaching staff made the right call to use Johnson more in the second half.
Thompson and the remaining defensive staff developed a good gameplan in place of the departed Will Muschamp. The coaches deserve credit for getting the players ready to play after a disappointing finish to the season.
Auburn fell well short of preseason expectations, but that doesn’t detract from how well the team played Wednesday. The team had a good all-around performance and it should give the returning members of the team confidence heading into next season.
There weren’t many occasions this season when Auburn played well in all three phases, but better late than never.