Auburn, Ala.--Like the calvary coming over the hill to save a wagon train that was in peril, Sean White galloped out of the locker room leading the Auburn Tigers back onto the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium after intermission and then directed his team to a 23-16 SEC football comeback victory over the Vanderbilt.
Trailing 13-10 at halftime with backup John Franklin directing the offense, the Tigers called on their regular starting quarterback to play the second half despite being bothered by a sore shoulder on his throwing arm.
On Auburn’s opening possession of the third quarter, White led the Tigers on a 12-play, 75-yard scoring drive that put Auburn ahead for good. However, the game wasn’t decided until the closing seconds when senior cornerback Josh Holsey intercepted a pass after Vandy blocked a field goal and moved 42 yards to the Auburn 30.
“It feels great,” Holsey said. “You dream about moments like this when you are a kid. I just happened to do it back-to-back weeks. The feeling now is still unreal.”
His head coach, Gus Malzahn, was relieved when the heavily-favored Tigers found a way to win a game when they struggled on third downs, which had been a team strength coming into the game. The Commodores converted 7-16 opportunities to keep the game close and kept the Auburn offense on the sidelines. The visitors enjoyed a 35:09 to 24:51 advantage in time of possession.
Offensively, the Tigers did just enough to pull out the victory, extending their winning streak to six-in-a-row while improving to 7-2 overall and 5-1 in the SEC. Auburn converted 4-12 third downs vs. the Commodores, who fell to 4-5 overall and 1-4 in the SEC.
With Texas A&M’s loss at Mississippi State the Tigers now control their destiny in the SEC West race. If they win their final two league games vs. Georgia next Saturday and in the regular season finale at Alabama they will play in the SEC Championship Game.
Sean White (13) didn't throw in practice, but came through with a solid performance vs. the Commodores.
“We faced probably as much adversity as we have faced in a win in a long time,” Malzahn said. “We had some injuries. Some guys weren’t able to play. We had one of our top defensive guys (DeShaun Davis) get kicked out of the game early.
“We had some guys who stepped up and did a super a job,” he added, noting that he told his players that whenever a team has a good season “you can always look back at a game like this the guys found a way to win.”
After giving up 13 points in the first half, the Auburn defense allowed just three more after that. Junior safety Tray Matthews said, “They came out with a whole bunch of stuff we hadn’t seen. We had to come in and adjust and what Malzahn said was, ‘Respond to adversity.’ We got a little chalkboard, drew it up and made the right adjustments.”
The coach praised Vandy’s effort. “You have got to give Vanderbilt a lot of credit. They had a week off. They were obviously fresh and they took advantage of some situations and they are a good team.”
Vandy took the opening kickoff and moved the football 41 yards on seven plays to set up a 52-yard field goal by Tommy Openshaw.
Auburn answered with a touchdown drive, moving 63 yards on nine plays. Kerryon Johnson got the score on a three-yard wildcat run at right end.
Vandy took the lead after cashing in on a fumble by John Franklin. The Commodores moved 66 yards on nine plays with the touchdown a nine-yard pass to tight end Jared Pinkey from Kyle Shurmur. That made the score 10-7 with 11:04 left in the second quarter.
The Tigers tied the game with 8:17 left on a 45-yard field goal by Daniel Carlson to cap a possession that moved the ball 47 yards on 10 plays.
The Commodores regained the lead at 13-10 with a time-consuming drive that covered 57 yards on 13 plays while lasting just under seven minutes.
The score, a 34-yard field goal, came with 1:17 left in the half. Auburn tried a trick play on the kickoff return with near disastrous results just outside the Auburn goal line when Kam Martin tried to hand the football to Franklin. Auburn got the ball at the seven yard line and ran three plays to end the half.
Kamryn Pettway rushed for 173 yards vs. the Commodores.
The second half opened with promise with White at quarterback, but a Kamryn Pettway fumble at the Vandy 25 was ruled Vandy ball. However, a replay review overturned the call and two plays later White threw a 21-yard TD pass to Darius Slayton on a post-corner route into the end zone. That put Auburn up 17-13 with 10:38 on the clock following a drive that covered 75 yards on 12 plays.
After allowing Vandy a first down, the Tigers forced a punt and moved the ball 39 yards on nine plays to set up a 53-yard field goal by Carlson. The redshirt junior nailed it with room to spare to put the Tigers up 20-13 with 5:57 left in the third quarter.
The teams exchanged field goals. The Commodores got a 47-yarder with 13:28 left in the fourth quarter. The Tigers matched it with a 33-yarder by Carlson to make the score 23-16 with 11:01 to play.
The Tigers had a chance to ice the game late, but couldn’t make it happen. On a third and one play at their own 28-yard line, Pettway burst through a big hole and broke past the defense. However, he pulled up lame and was tackled at the Vandy 12-yard-line.
That ended the sophomore’s day with 175 yards on 25 carries, marking his fourth consecutive game to go past 150 rushing yards.
The Tigers ran the ball three times and made the Commodores burn their timeouts, but managed to lose six yards in the process. That was followed by a blocked field goal as Zach Cunningham hurdled the line and blocked the kick, which is supposed to be illegal, but no flag was thrown by Referee James Carter’s crew, who drew the wrath of Auburn’s coaching staff on multiple occasions in Saturday’s game.
One of those calls was when linebacker DeShaun Davis was called for a personal foul targeting penalty and was removed from the game in the first quarter.
Vandy got the ball at its 28-yard line and converted a fourth down and 18 pass that was deflected by Auburn’s secondary into the arms of Caleb Scott for a 29-yard gain.
Four players later Holsey intercepted Kyle Shurmur with 36 seconds left to preserve the victory.
That was the only turnover for the day for Shurmur and his team. The QB hit 24-36 passes for 221 yards. Ralph Webb ran for 46 yards on 13 carries as Vandy gained 341 yards to 386 for the Tigers.
White hit 10-13 passes for 106 yards and Franklin was 2-4 for nine yards while adding 59 rushing yards on seven carries.
Next up for the Tigers is a trip to Athens to play the Georgia Bulldogs. Kickoff time is 2:30 p.m. CST and it will be televised on CBS.
Worth Noting, Part 1: Auburn’s defense has given up just 14 touchdowns in nine games.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Redshirt freshman Darius Slayton made his first collegiate touchdown catch.
Worth Noting, Part 3: Tre Williams was injured and did not play, opening the door for Montavious Atkinson to make his first college start. He made three solo tackles with two assists.
Two other linebackers, Darrell Williams (nine solos, two assists) and T.J. Neal (five solos, four assists) led the Tigers in tackles.
Worth Noting, Part 3: Tony Stevens (ribs injury) was unable to go for a second straight week.
Stat of the Game: Sean White completed all five of his passes on his first possession in the game that put the Tigers ahead for good.