What started out as a slow, stodgy, and frustrating game on both sides of the ball ended up turning into a showcase for the Auburn passing game as Bo Nix threw for three scores and the Tigers showed up in the second half on defense to beat Kentucky SCORE.
Nix’s three touchdowns tied a career high he set last season against Arkansas, and Auburn starts the year at 1-0 while Kentucky falls to 0-1. On the other side of the ball, a host of newcomers took a full half to come to life, but started the third quarter with consecutive three-and-outs and never really looked back. Kentucky’s offensive gameplan threatened to shorten the contest with a ton of running and ball control, and they were fantastic on third down as well. For the majority of the game, they seemed to be in control of the tempo despite playing from behind.
While Auburn failed on its first drive, a Bo Nix pooch punt pinned the Wildcats at their own 7-yard line. Kentucky converted three third downs on the drive, with the third resulting in a 35-yard scoring dash from Kavosiey Smoke to put UK up 7-0.
Auburn answered on the second drive, showing off some of the Chad Morris passing offense. Behind connections to Seth Williams for 26 yards and Anthony Schwartz for 23 yards, the Tigers ended the drive on a 1-yard D.J. Williams touchdown run. Gus Malzahn followed that score with the old Swinging Gate play “Batman” to surprise Kentucky for a 2-point conversion. With 4:30 left in the first quarter, Auburn took the lead that it would never relinquish at 8-7.
The second quarter was much more uneventful until the closing moments. Driving late to take the lead, Kentucky appeared to go ahead on a 1-yard touchdown run, but officials ruled that Chris Rodriguez’s forward progress was stopped shy of the goal line. On third down two plays later, Roger McCreary stepped in front of a Terry Wilson pass and scampered 100 yards down the sideline for a gigantic momentum play to end the half. However, upon review of whether or not he stepped out of bounds, officials discovered a targeting penalty on the runback by Derick Hall and the touchdown was negated. At halftime, Auburn still led 8-7.
Auburn ran just 24 plays in the first half compared to 41 for Kentucky, and held the ball for only 8:58 seconds compared to 21:02 for the Wildcats. Meanwhile, UK went 8-10 on third down in the half as well, which allowed them to tire out the Tiger defense.
To start the third quarter, Auburn’s defense forced two straight three-and-outs, one of them forcing a Max Duffy punt from the back of the end zone. Auburn moved down the field, not facing a third down until a third and goal, where Nix fired a bullet (“A bullet by Bo!”) to Seth Williams for an 11-yard touchdown. Auburn went up 15-7 after the Anders Carlson extra point.
Kentucky answered, though, quickly going 73 yards in 11 plays for an 8-yard touchdown from Wilson to Akeem Hayes, pulling the Wildcats back within two at 15-13. After Auburn went just 13 yards on its next drive and punted back to the Cats, Jamien Sherwood forced a fumble on third down and gave the Tigers a short field to extend the lead. The offense needed just five plays to find the end zone, this time on Seth Williams’ second touchdown catch of the day (MANDATORY HIGHLIGHT BELOW). At that point, Auburn gained a two-score advantage at 22-13 with 10:21 to play.
Kentucky got a little desperate on its next possession, where they faked a punt from their own 30 yard line, and Max Duffy was stopped well short of the line to gain. Auburn took just two plays before Nix found Eli Stove on a beautiful 21-yard touchdown pass to ice the game with a 29-13 lead. Neither team would score again, and Auburn would be able to kneel out the clock after Owen Pappoe recovered a Wilson fumble on a last-ditch drive for Kentucky.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
I don’t think there’s any doubt about this one. It’s the guy that gives Auburn the best legitimate receiving danger in quite some time. We’ve had guys you depend on, but it’s been a long age since we had someone opposing defensive coordinators had to specifically scheme around. Even with Sammie Coates and Duke Williams the offense was predicated on the run, but Seth Williams is going to be a problem this year for everyone in the SEC.
Today, he finished the game with 6 catches, 112 yards, and 2 touchdowns, both of which were absolute highlight reel grabs.
SETH WILLIAMS JUST MOSS’D HIM— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 26, 2020
At this pace (which we understand is unlikely), Williams would end up with an Auburn receiving record in only 10 regular season games. Currently Ronney Daniels holds the single-season mark with his 1,068 yards in 1999. Watching Seth next week against the Georgia defense is going to be a special battle.
(HONORABLE MENTION) Jaylin Simpson in his first game as a redshirt freshman corner holding his own time and again, Roger McCreary for the biggest highlight of the day that got called back and a super solid day at corner, Jamien Sherwood for the huge forced fumble and recover, and Bo Nix for the two best punts of the afternoon.
Auburn will meet Georgia next Saturday night in Athens. Kickoff comes at 6:30 pm CST between the Tigers and the Bulldogs, who are set to kickoff against Arkansas in about 30 minutes.