Auburn, Ala.--After playing a horrible first half with breakdowns on defense, offense and special teams, Auburn fought back and not once, but twice, missed golden opportunities for a comeback victory vs. Texas A&M.
Two unforced Auburn fumbles in the final minutes allowed the Aggies to get out of Jordan-Hare Stadium with a 41-38 SEC football victory, virtually ending Auburn’s chances of earning a spot in the postseason playoff tournament while all but ending hope of defending its SEC title.
“Our kids fought back, they got in a hole early, they (Texas A&M) had a lot of momentum,” Coach Gus Malzahn said. “We were down by quite a bit at halftime.” In this case quite a bit was 35-17.
“Obviously, the fumbling going in (towards the end zone) was big,” Malzahn said, noting that another fumble with 54 seconds left with the Tigers at the Texas A&M 28 was a killer, too.
With first and goal at the A&M seven-yard line, Cameron Artis-Payne took the handoff on a zone read and ran to the two-yard line. The Tigers repeated the play, but the mesh between the running back and Nick Marshall went awry. The ball came loose and the officials ruled the Aggies recovered on the three.
The replay booth reviewed the call and didn’t change the ruling even though Artis-Payne said after the game he recovered the fumble. “I got it--there ain’t no question about it,” he said of the loose ball. “When you look on the screen when they reviewed it, you could clearly see I had the ball first. That was disappointing.”
The turnover was he second of three fumbles lost by the Tigers, which proved to be costly as was a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown, a 10-point swing at the end of the half.
“It was a poor exchange on me and Nick’s part, something that never really happens,” the senior running back said of the fumble at the A&M goal line. “This whole game was really uncharacteristic for us in a lot of different areas.”
After the turnover the Tigers still had time to win the game with 2:37 to play and two timeouts. Three running plays later, the third which was a near safety, the Aggies punted the ball back to the Tigers who took over at the A&M 42 with 1:28 and no timeouts left.
Marshall was looking for a play signal from the sideline when center Reese Dismukes snapped the ball, which was recovered by the Aggies, allowing Texas A&M to pull off the major upset and improve its record to 7-3 overall and 3-3 in the SEC. Auburn dropped to 7-2 overall and 4-2 in the league.
“We have a lot of disappointed players in the locker room,” Malzahn said. “I told them we are going to stick together. We are not going to blame any one person. We fought hard, we just didn’t get it done at the end.”
Artis-Payne finished the game with an Auburn career-best 221 yards plus two touchdowns, but said that was no consolation because the goal was to win the game.
Texas A&M’s first touchdown couldn’t have been much easier. Malcolm Kennedy was uncovered on a simple slant route and scored from 60 yards out on the opening possession.
After the Tigers got the football at the 50-yard line when the Aggies tried an onside kickoff that went out of bounds, on the first play Artis-Payne fumbled it away.
With the help of a 15-yard facemask penalty on Cassanova McKinzy, the visitors cashed in the turnover for seven points by moving 58 yards in three plays.
On the play prior to the touchdown, Jonathan Jones jumped a bubble screen pass and had a potential pick six touchdown if he could have held on to the football. On the next play Kyle Allen hit a back shoulder pass on the sidelines to Josh Reynolds, who beat Jonathon Mincy on the touchdown that covered 36 yards.
The Tigers didn’t waste time beginning the comeback with a 13-play drive that covered 75 yards. Cameron Artis-Payne powered into the end zone up the middle on a first and goal run from the two.
After a stop by the defense after one first down for the Aggies, Auburn took over at its 20 and scored in seven plays. Artis-Payne was untouched on a 34-yard run at right tackle to make the score 14-14 with 2:32 left in the opening quarter.
The Aggies regained the lead by driving 94 yards on 11 plays. The final one was a pass over to the middle to Ricky Seals-Jones, who scored from 24 yards with 13:29 left in the second quarter.
Auburn scored on the following possession, but had to settle for a 30-yard Daniel Carlson field goal after Nick Marshall was sacked on a third goal play at the three-yard line. AU’s drive lasted 14 plays as the Tigers cut the lead to 28-17 with 4:14 left before halftime.
An interception by former starter Jermaine Whitehead, who entered the game at safety on the third Auburn defensive possession, gave the Tigers another opportunity to cut into the lead.
Jermaine Whitehead picks off a pass.
After taking over at their own 43 the Tigers stalled and tried a 41-yard field goal, but on the final play of the half. The kick was blocked by Myles Garrett and returned 65 yards for a touchdown by Deshazor Everett to make the score 35-17 on the final play of the half.
Halftime Numbers: The Aggies held the ball for 28 plays and gained 274 yards. Auburn held the ball for 47 plays and gained 255. The Tigers ran the ball 34 times for 182 yards while hitting 8-13 passes for 73 yards. Texas A&M rank the ball 12 times for 87 yards and hit 12-16 passes for 187 yards. Artis-Payne rushed for 101 yards on 17 carries.
The Aggies had the first scoring opportunity in the second half, but missed a 49-yard field goal with 7:17 to play in the third quarter.
The Tigers then put together an eight-play scoring drive using their pace and running attack. Artis-Payne went over the 200-yard mark on the possession and Marshall scored the touchdown on a keeper at right tackle from yard out to cut the lead to 35-24 with 4:41 left in the third period.
The Auburn defense could have had a much needed three and out, but gave the Aggies a do-over on third down when Elijah Daniel was offsides on an incomplete pass play. The Aggies moved into AU territory before settling on a 22-yard field goal with 47 seconds left in the third quarter to extend the lead to 38-24.
The Auburn offense came through with a quick score, moving 75 yards on four plays. The final 31 came on a 31-yard pass to Quan Bray to cut the lead to 38-31 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Quan Bray scores in the south end zone.
Auburn’s defense again failed to rise to the occasion, allowing the Aggies to keep the ball for 6:49 before the visitors stretched the lead to 41-31 on a 27-yard field goal with 7:54 left.
Auburn didn’t take long to cut the lead with Marshall hitting Sammie Coates on a 62-yard bomb over the middle to the Texas A&M six. On the next play Marshall kept the ball at left end and scored with 6:42 left on the clock to cut the lead to 41-38
That set the stage for the Tigers’ two more chances to win the game, a frustrating end to a contest in which the Tigers out-gained the Aggies 582 yards to 453.
Worth Noting, Part 1: Junior wide receiver Duke Williams took a blow to his right knee in the second quarter and was not able to return to the game.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Texas A&M freshman quarterback Kyle Allen hit 19-29 passes for 277 yards and four scores and was sacked just one time.
Worth Noting, Part 3: Cassanova McKinzy led the Tigers in tackles with seven solos and five assists. Safety Johnathan Ford was next with four solos and two assists.
Worth Noting, Part 4: Penalties continue to cause problems for the Tigers, who were flagged eight times for 65 yards.
The Tigers return to action with their next to last SEC game at Georgia. Kickoff time will be announced on Sunday.