Auburn report card: Tigers do just enough to beat Kentucky
Auburn (4-2, 1-2 SEC) defeated Kentucky (4-2, 2-2 SEC) 30-27 on Thursday night to earn its first conference win of the season. Kentucky kept the game close with 359 passing yards from quarterback Patrick Towles, but the Tigers made more plays down the stretch to escape with the win.
Here is the Auburn report card:
The Tigers posted 407 yards of total offense on Thursday night as multiple players recorded career-highs.
Quarterback Sean White passed for 255 yards with 154 of those going to senior wide receiver Ricardo Louis. Not only were Louis’ 154 yards the most in his career, but the most by an Auburn receiver this season.
Sophomore running back Peyton Barber continues to be a workhorse for Auburn as he rushed for 92 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman running back Kerryon Johnson also scored his first career touchdown. Johnson was featured in a wildcat package throughout the game.
The grade would be higher, but the offense had to settle for three field goals in the second quarter. The Tigers were also shut out in the third quarter as the Wildcats mounted a comeback.
In the end, the offense did enough to emerge victorious. Auburn was able to get the explosive offensive plays that the team had been lacking.
After giving up 497 yards to Kentucky, Auburn’s defense has allowed an average of 426.2 yards per game. That ranks the Tigers next to last in the SEC and 98th in the nation.
However, the defense made key stops when the game was on the line. The biggest play came with 26 seconds left when linebacker Justin Garrett sacked Towles on fourth down to seal the win. The Tigers had just seven sacks coming into the game, but recorded three on Thursday night.
Freshman defensive back Carlton Davis intercepted Towles in the end zone in the first quarter to save at least three points. It was the first time this season Kentucky has not scored at least a field goal in the red zone.
Right now, Auburn’s defense is the epitome of “bend, but don’t break.” But Will Muschamp’s unit executed better than Kentucky’s offense in crucial moments on Thursday.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
The Tigers were superb on special teams.
Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson was 3-for-3 on field goal attempts, including a 52-yarder to end the first half. He has now made three field goals of 50 or more yards this season.
The kick return team set Auburn’s offense up with good field position throughout the game.
Punter Kevin Phillips pinned the Wildcats inside the 20-yard line twice. He had average distance of 40.8 yards on five punts.
The only blemish for the special teams unit came on a fourth-and-1 when Auburn decided to punt with 2:12 left in the game. Kentucky’s personnel got confused, so the Wildcats only had eight players on the field for the punt. Auburn could have easily picked up the yard with the numbers advantage. Kentucky was out of timeouts, so the game would have been over.
Other than that, the Tigers’ special teams had a good night.
You can make the case that Auburn should have gone for it on that fourth-and-1 situation near midfield, but the defense bailed out the coaching staff.
The defense came through, but Kentucky still gained 497 yards of offense. Auburn’s secondary featured multiple freshmen, but the defense can’t continue to allow big plays downfield.
Malzahn had the offense clicking in the first half, but the Tigers were scoreless in the third quarter. Kentucky appeared to make the better adjustments at halftime before Auburn rebounded in the final period.
Auburn could have easily lost this game, but you have to give the Tigers credit for making plays when it mattered late. Auburn’s offense appears to be rejuvenated after the bye week, which is something to build on for future games.
The defense is far from perfect, but if it can hold opponents under 30 points then the Tigers should be competitive in every game.