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Auburn Defeats Memphis 31-10 in 2015 Birmingham Bowl

After a season of being much maligned, Auburn's defense showed up with a chip on their shoulder.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

If this game were to be an audition for Lance Thompson - something that is apparently not the case given the Kevin Steele news - then he sure made it a good one. Through the first three quarters, the Auburn defense held Memphis' Paxton Lynch to less than 100 yards passing. Memphis' only touchdown through those quarters was a pick-6 interception. He finished with only 106 total yards passing and zero touchdowns.

The Recap

Auburn appeared to stall on the first drive, but then Gus Malzahn reached into his bag of tricks for the first of many times on the day and Kevin Phillips threw a pass to Kerryon Johnson on a fake punt that gave the Tigers the first down. Auburn stalled inside the redzone, though, and had to kick a field goal. On Auburn's next drive, they drove down again and this time converted when Kerryon Johnson kept the ball in the Wildcat and scored for the 10-0 lead.

That was it on offense for the rest of the first half, though. The offense spluttered with turnovers, bad trick plays, and questionable play calls. Meanwhile, Memphis was able to pick up a 53 yard field goal and also turned one of those INTs into a 50+ yard pick-six. They had a chance for another FG prior to the pick-six, but Auburn blocked the short effort.

Straight out of the second half, it looked like Memphis remembered how its offense worked and drove down the field. Carlton Davis' effort caused a tipped ball that was pulled down in the endzone for a huge interception for the Tigers, though. Auburn then started a run of offensive success that lasted into the 4th quarter.

With some rough plays, Auburn still drove down the field thanks to some key third down throws and catches by Sean White to first Melvin Ray, then to Ricardo Louis. When Auburn got into the redzone, Jeremy Johnson entered the game and threw a screen pass to Jason Smith, who took it 11 yards to the house thanks to a murderous block by Chandler Cox.

With another defensive stand, Auburn got the ball back and got rolling again. A big gain on the ground by Johnson up the middle started things off. A few Jovon Robinson runs and the Tigers were in the redzone again. For some reason Memphis again failed to account for Jeremy Johnson on the power draw on the first play of the 4th quarter and allowed the Tigers to pick up a touchdown on 1st and 5 to open things up to a 24-10 lead.

The defense got the job done yet again against Paxton Lynch and the Memphis offense, culminating in a Jeff Holland sack. Holland played the Buck a good bit of the day after Cassanova McKinzy left the game early with a leg injury. A big punt return by Marcus Davis gave Auburn a 1st and Goal from the 6. Jovon Robinson was able to force the ball in - thanks to a big push from the offensive line - to stretch the lead to 31-10.

Memphis didn't give up, though. Thanks mainly to quick screens and some good rushing plays, the Other Tigers drove down the field. Auburn bucked up deep in their own territory, though, forcing Memphis to go for a 4th and 16 in order to stay in the game. After being chased through the backfield by Carl Lawson, Lynch tossed up a pass to the endzone that was batted down by Nick Ruffin.

Auburn left Jeremy Johnson in the game to close it out, handing the ball off on the edge and up the middle to the running backs to eat clock. Auburn held the ball for the final 5 minutes of the game and left the field victorious.

Highlights of the Game:

The Defense. All of them. Wow, what a game. Carl Lawson - whom reports came out would go pro, then came out that he wasn't, then no one knew all during the game - kept constant pressure on Lynch. Devaroe Lawrence was an absolute beast in the middle. Carlton Davis continues to show why he was 1st team Freshman All-SEC.

Peyton Barber. He got his 1000 yards on the season and kept the Auburn streak of 7 straight seasons with a 1000 yard rusher alive.

Jeremy Johnson. He didn't do much, but he got it done.

Jovon Robinson. Is there any doubt he needs to be the workhorse back? He's so shifty and has an amazingly quick burst.

Kevin Phillips. Threw the longest pass of the day by any passer. That's not a joke.

Final Thoughts

Auburn avoided a losing season, meaning Gus Malzahn avoided his first losing season since the early 90s when he was a high school coach. Auburn avoided losing to a team not in a Power Five / BCS conference at the time of the game since Brett Favre quarterbacked Southern Miss to victories over Auburn. Auburn's seniors closed their career with a bowl game victory. It was Gus Malzahn's first bowl victory as a head coach.

2015 is blessedly over. We'll have the post-mortem for the season next week. Until then, War Eagle. Always.