Freshman Kerryon Johnson scored his first college touchdown vs. Kentucky.
Lexington, Ky.--It certainly wasn’t a thing of beauty as an all-around football performance for the Auburn Tigers, but their 30-27 SEC victory over Kentucky on Thursday night looked good enough for Gus Malzahn and his players.
“It was a big win for our team,” Malzahn said. “I am proud of our players and coaches. All three phases helped us win this game. We probably played our best overall game of the year.
“The offense, we had some explosive plays really for the first time all year,” the coach said. “We actually got in a rhythm. On third downs in the first half we made some plays.
“Sean White, I?thought, really had a good game through the air and made some plays along with Ricardo Louis, who really broke out,” he added. White hit 17-28 passes for 255 yards and did not throw an interception.
“We had no turnovers, which is always critical, especially on the road,” said Malzahn, whose team improved to 4-2 overall and 1-2 in the SEC while Kentucky fell to 4-2 and 2-2 in the SEC.
“We had a good game and I am just proud our team came together today and got this W,” said Louis, who caught seven passes for career-high 154 yards.
“It was definitely a win we needed today,” said running back Peyton Barber, who scored two touchdowns and rushed for 92 yards on 26 carries. “This is definitely going to help us going forward.”
Peyton Barber runs the football for the Tigers.
Rudy Ford, who led Auburn defensively with 14 tackles and one sack, said, “This was a must win. It refuels us. It was a big win for us on the road.”
Auburn led by 10 points on three occasions, but could never put the Wildcats away until the final minute when senior linebacker Justin Garrett sacked Patrick Towles to end UK’s final threat at the Auburn 46-yard line. The Wildcats had gotten the ball back with 2:12 and no timeouts at their own 15 before moving into Auburn territory in the closing seconds.
UK got the ball for the final time after Malzahn decided to punt on fourth and one at the Auburn 47-yard line. The coach said he considered going for it, but decided to let the defense hold the three-point lead.
“We needed this one,” Malzahn said. “It gives us momentum. We are 2-0 in October so we are going in the right direction.”
Both teams scored on their opening possessions that were wrapped up by one-yard runs.
Barber completed a 12-play, 80-yard drive for the Tigers during which they converted four third downs on their way to the end zone.
The Wildcats use a 60-yard run by Boom Williams, who got away from Cassanova McKinzy, who had a chance to make the stop near the line of scrimmage.
The Tigers responded with a touchdown on their second possession by driving 75 yards on six plays with White hooking up with receiver Ricardo Louis to push the ball deep into UK territory.
Kerryon Johnson, lining up as the wildcat quarterback, scored on a six-yard run around right end after faking to backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson, who was in motion as a wide receiver on the play.
Auburn’s defense came up with a big play early in the second quarter when freshman Carlton Davis intercepted a Towles pass in the end zone. It was the first time this season the Wildcats did not score after moving into the red zone.
Auburn stretched its advantage to 17-7 by moving 63 yards on 13 plays before settling on a 34-yard field goal by Daniel Carlson.
Kentucky’s Austin McGinnis trimmed the lead to 17-10 with a 28-yard field goal with 4:55 left in the half, but the Tigers led 23-10 at halftime with Carlson hitting a 29-yard field goal with 1:43 left and a 52-yarder on the final play before intermission.
On the play before Carlson’s long field goal the Tigers just missed scoring on a pass to Tony Stevens, who wasn’t able to get a foot down inbounds before touching the ground outside of the end zone.
A key stat for the Tigers in the first half was converting 8-11 third downs while the Wildcats made 3-6.
Kentucky got the second half kickoff and attacked the Tigers with short passes to move 75 yards on nine plays. Williams scored the touchdown from six yards out with 11:49 to cut Auburn’s lead to 23-17.
The Wildcats cut the lead to 23-20 with a 32-yard field goal with 1:03 left in the third quarter by taking advantage of good field position after White was sacked at his own 13-yard line.
Desperately needing to change the momentum, Auburn finally was able to put together a scoring drive and moved ahead 30-20 with 7:56 left in the game by driving 67 yards on 11 plays. Barber scored the touchdown on a run at left guard from three yards out.
Kentucky responded by moving the football 75 yards on nine plays to cut the lead to 30-27 on a drive that featured a pair of third down pass interference calls on cornerback Blake Countess. The touchdown came on a one-yard run by Mikel Horton with 4:06 left to play.
Auburn’s offense was able to make one first down and force the Wildcats to burn all three timeouts, but Auburn punted the ball back to UK at their 15-yard line. The defense bent, but didn’t break as the Tigers held on for the victory.
The Tigers were out-gained 497 to 407. Auburn rushed for 152 yards at 3.2 yards per carry while the Wildcats had 138 yards at 4.2 per carry. Towles hit 27-44 passes with one interception for 359 yards for the Wildcats while White was 17-28-0 for 255 yards.
Worth Noting, Part 1: Ricardo Louis has caught a pass in 22 consecutive games. His 154 receiving yards are a career high.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Auburn has now won nine consecutive road games in Lexington vs. Kentucky.
Stat of the Game: Auburn converted 11-18 third down plays, including 8-11 in the first half.