Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers opened 2017 with a bang tonight, defeating an overpowered Georgia Southern Eagles squad on the Plains 41-7 to improve to 1-0 on the year as they now turn their attention to the huge game next week against Clemson.
With the announcement coming just before kickoff that Sean White, Kam Pettway, and Kyle Davis were suspended for the game, it gave an opportunity to other weapons on the Auburn offense.
In a sloppy offensive game, Auburn still managed to rack up more than 500 yards of offense, but the defense was the star of the opener, holding Georgia Southern’s tricky triple option attack to just 78 total yards on the night.
The Tigers began the game by taking the ball, and they drove down the field but stalled and Daniel Carlson boomed a 50-yard field goal for the first points of the season for Auburn. Carlson missed a 53-yard field goal at the culmination of Auburn’s second possesion, which stalled after Darius Slayton dropped a sure touchdown pass from Jarrett Stidham.
It didn’t take long for the Tigers to get going on offense, as the third drive went quickly after Kerryon Johnson whipped around right end for a 60-yard touchdown that put Auburn up 10-0 just a few minutes into the game. Meanwhile, Kevin Steele’s defense had held Georgia Southern to a goose-egg in yardage on the Eagles’ first two drives.
Unable to score on offense, GSU found a little help defensively, as Jarrett Stidham was sacked in the final minute of the opening quarter, he fumbled and the Eagles returned that fumble for a touchdown, cutting the lead to just three. It was the second turnover by Stidham in the first quarter after he threw an interception earlier in the period.
As the Tigers drove into Eagle territory to start the second quarter, the drive once again stalled and Daniel Carlson missed his second long field goal of the night, this one from 45 yards. Through sixteen minutes of the opener, Auburn mistakes were the name of the game and the reason the score was close.
Despite the miscues from Auburn, the defense was rock solid, as Georgia Southern had just four total yards after the first drive of the second quarter on fifteen total plays. The shotgun triple option had no effect, and it gave the Tigers a little comfort that the offense had time to mesh and find a groove.
After Kerryon Johnson came up lame on a 34-yard run in the second quarter, Jarrett Stidham notched his first touchdown as a Tiger with a 14-yard scamper to give the Tigers a 17-7 lead, which Kam Martin followed up with a 35-yard burst to break the lead open to 24-7 with five minutes to play in the second quarter.
Even with the mistakes, Auburn rolled up 305 yards in the first compared to just 37 for Georgia Southern, and Gus Malzahn admitted on the SEC Network broadcast that “It’s been sloppy as crap so far” as he was coming off the field.
The defense continued its tight play on GSU’s first drive of the second half, forcing another three-and-out, and Jarrett Stidham threw his first touchdown pass in an Auburn uniform, connecting with Ryan Davis for a 19-yard score to increase the lead to 31-7 early in the third quarter.
That margin increased to 34-7 with Carlson’s second field goal of the night, this one from 37 yards, and Georgia Southern still couldn’t move the ball, sitting at 17 total yards midway through the third quarter. On Ian Shannon’s first punt of the night, Auburn committed a facemask penalty, giving GSU the ball with good field position, and they moved the ball inside the Tiger 20-yard line as the third quarter ended.
To start the fourth quarter, Georgia Southern finally got near the end zone, but on a 4th-and-goal, Auburn rebuffed the Eagles and got the ball back still up 34-7. Kam Martin began the next Auburn drive with a 61-yard burst down the right sideline to get the Tigers out of the shadow of their own goalpost, but then Auburn quickly faced a fourth down. The Tigers converted on a Malik Miller run, and then Stidham tossed his second touchdown of the day, a 19-yarder to Will Hastings in the left corner of the end zone to give the Tigers a 41-7 lead.
At that point, the subs started playing in spades, including Devin Adams at quarterback in place of Jarrett Stidham, and the freshman quarterback ran out much of the remaining time, as the Tigers finalized the win 41-7.
Auburn outgained the Eagles 535 yards to 78, while the Tigers allowed just 8 passing yards, and an average of 1.5 yards per attempt on 47 rushing plays. Meanwhile, the Tiger offense, which coughed up three turnovers in the first half, rumbled for 351 yards on 53 carries for an average of 6.6 yards per attempt.
The Tigers notched 25 first downs, didn’t allow a third-down conversion on defense (GSU went 0-15), and scored in every quarter. Both Kam Martin and Kerryon Johnson ran for 136 yards and touchdown each, while averaging 9.7 and 8.5 yards respectively. Auburn’s leading receiver was Will Hastings, who caught four passes for 68 yards and a touchdown.
In his orange and blue debut, quarterback Jarrett Stidham went 14-24 through the air for 185 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. He fumbled once as well, which led to Georgia Southern’s only score of the day.
Auburn sits at 1-0 on the year, and will meet Clemson next Saturday night in Death Valley, with kickoff set for 6 pm CST on ESPN. Clemson began its season with a victory as well, taking care of business against Kent State at home 56-3.