Auburn stopped the Wildcats on a 4th-and-3 play at its own 44-yard line with 25 seconds remaining to escape Commonwealth Stadium with a thrilling 30-27 win.
Kentucky had rolled up a season-high 497 yards of offense, but the crucial final three plays of the night produced only a 2-yard run, an incomplete deep pass, and a 2-yard loss on Justin Garrett's sack of Patrick Towles to seal the victory for the Tigers.
"I think what really stands out to me is when the game is on the line and you need your defense to respond, they did," Malzahn said. "They won the game for us on that last drive. They had the interception in the end zone. That was big, too, so we're happy to get out of here with a win."
Auburn improved to 4-2 on the season with its first SEC win in three tries. Kentucky dropped to 4-2 overall and 2-2 in league play. It marked the Tigers' ninth consecutive win in Lexington dating back to 1966.
"As you can imagine, a very difficult loss for our team," UK head coach Mark Stoops said. "I felt like our players played extremely hard, but like I just told them, when you have a bunch of tough games, it comes down to making some plays. Give (Auburn) credit, they made the plays to win the game and we did not."
The Tigers were led by new starting quarterback Sean White, who completed 17 of 27 passes for a career-high 255 yards on a turnover-free night for the visitors.Seven of those completions went to Ricardo Louis for 154 yards receiving. Auburn also got 92 yards rushing and two touchdowns from Peyton Barber and three field goals from Daniel Carlson, including a 52-yarder as time expired in the first half that ultimately wound up being the margin of victory.
Kentucky got 359 yards passing from Towles, but he was haunted by a first-half interception in the end zone and a second-half drop of a TD pass by receiver Dorian Baker. Stanley "Boom" Williams had 113 yards rushing and two touchdowns for the Cats, while receiver Garrett Johnson added a career-best nine receptions for 160 yards.
In this AllWildcats Rapid Recap feature, we break down some of the key moments from the game...
WHAT WENT WRONG:
Kentucky shot itself in the foot far too many times to win a competitive SEC game against a talented team like Auburn. The Cats threw an interception in the end zone, marking the first time in 28 red zone trips dating back to last season they failed to score on one. They dropped a touchdown pass. And they were victimized by some questionable play calls along the way, including: very little Boom Williams in the first half after a fast start; a short, 3-and-out series before the first half ended that allowed Auburn to kick an important field goal; and a highly-debated run call with under a minute to go and no timeouts remaining. When the dust settled, it was just too much for the Cats to overcome.
On 3rd-and-3 with under 40 seconds to play, Patrick Towles got man-to-man coverage on the speedy Jeff Badet down the left sideline with no safety help over he top. It was exactly the defensive look UK wanted to see, and Towles threw a ball that gave Badet a chance to make a play inside the 5-yard line. But Auburn cornerback Jonathan Jones broke it up and the ball briefly rested between Badet's legs before squirting out as the Commonwealth Stadium crowd released a collective groan.
BY THE NUMBERS:
- 3 - Margin of victory by Auburn in its last trip to Lexington, a 37-34 win led by Cam Newton in 2010.
- 6 - Consecutive games decided by eight points or less for UK this season.
- 7 - Career rushes of 40 yards or more by UK's Boom Williams, including a 60-yarder in the first quarter against the Tigers.
- 110 - Yards for Auburn in the second half after posting 297 in the first half.
- 10-9 - Kentucky's record at CWS under Mark Stoops.
"You've seen us run the ball on third down and 15 and get the first down, and you praised them. Right? Didn't work. So it's real easy to second-guess (offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson). I don't. We were playing 2-high (defensive look) and we thought we could split them. If we split them for 12 yards, then we're sitting here saying 'Well, that's a genius call.' So it didn't work. We still had two more opportunities to get the first down." - UK head coach Mark Stoops when asked whether he regretted the late run play call with no timeouts remaining and under a minute to play.
Kentucky returns to action on Oct. 24 at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs (4-2, 2-1 SEC) face Louisiana Tech on Saturday in Starkville.