"At least Alabama lost."
Auburn fans came very close to having to say this late last night. But they did not.
Despite outgaining the Wildcats 521-336, Auburn needed a clutch 19-play, 86-yard drive that ate up over seven minutes to beat upset-minded Kentucky in Lexington.
The Cardiac Cats pulled it out again, which is all that matters. But conventional wisdom says that Ryan Mallett is licking his chops. Why not? Auburn once again was burned by short, intermediate passes all night, giving up 17 points to Kentucky in both halves.
Nonetheless, a win is a win, and the Tigers are 6-0 and now at No. 7 in both major polls are the highest-ranked SEC team.
Here are the grades for offense, defense, special teams, coaching, officiating, and overall.
To start the second half, Auburn's first three drives resulted in an two punts and an interception. It was an ugly way to start the half and allowed Kentucky to hang around and come back to tie the game.
But outside of those three possessions, the offense was nearly flawless. They scored every time they had the ball in the first half, totaling a freakish 31 points and 340 yards. They ran into a buzzsaw to start the second half, but then controlled the clock and scored on their last two possessions. Should Auburn have a miracle season and go unbeaten, they might look back on the 19-play, seven-minute drive to end this game as a defining moment.
They forced a fumble and three punts. Those are the only highlights of the night. On this night, Auburn's definition of a good series was holding Kentucky to a tying field goal instead of a game-changing touchdown. They made a stop when it counted in the fourth quarter, holding red-hot Kentucky to a field goal to set the stage for "The Drive" that gave Auburn a win.
However, there are many places Auburn must improve in the secondary with Arkansas and Ryan Mallett coming to town. He should get his yards, that's inevitable. They just need to make Mallett get 40 completions for 300 yards, rather than 15 for 300.
Special Teams: B-
Kentucky had two big returns on kickoffs, and Wes Byrum was immediately yanked from the kickoff team. Disaster almost struck as Auburn almost lost a fumble on a return late in the game. The kickoff coverage didn't look as fast as normal, even though Detruce "DeTruth" McNeal had another tackle.
So why is it a B-? You guessed it: Wes Byrum made three field goals, including the game-winning field goal with no time left.
Chizik cannot be happy about how the Tigers played. There was no jubilation on his face after the game ended. Just a stern look that summed up the night for Auburn. Ted Roof's scheme was burned most of the night, allowing some receivers to get wide open for first downs. Expect Chizik and the gang to throw down the gauntlet during practice this week. He did that for the offensive line before the South Carolina game. It worked. Now he must do it for the rest of the team.
Last year, the refs called 10 penalties on Auburn and none on Kentucky. They were improved this year. Like most crews, they missed some calls, and called Auburn for some pretty ridiculous things, but they get a better grade for calling the fumble late in the game correctly out of bounds.
It wasn't pretty at all. You let a team inferior to you in talent and coaching come back from a 17-point deficit to almost pull it out. Auburn showed that when they're on, they're unbeatable, but when they hit a slump, it can get bad. We already knew that, actually. Auburn must improve with Arkansas coming in. Props, however, to the offense for that clutch late drive to win. Byrum found his mojo again after a horrific game against South Carolina.
You know what they say. It's just another night in the SEC. A win is a win.... especially on a day where Alabama lost.