Auburn Football: Tigers Slip by Kentucky, Up To No. 7 in AP Poll
The sea of orange, which stuck out like a sore thumb in the northwest corner of Commonwealth Stadium, erupted with loud cheers when a voice came over the loudspeaker an hour before game time to announce South Carolina's victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Several hours later, as time ran off the clock, that same sea of orange erupted yet again with loud cheers of jubilation when Wes Byrum nailed a 24-yard field goal to seal Auburn's 37-34 victory over a very tough Kentucky Wildcat team. The victory gives Auburn a 6-0 record and a rank of seventh in the AP Poll. With Alabama's loss to South Carolina, the Tigers are now the highest ranked SEC team in the country.
In the first half, Auburn scored on every single offensive possession and it appeared to be the game where the Tigers would easily cruise to victory. It would not turn out that way at all. In the second half, Auburn would have the ball five times and would muster only six points. The game was certainly a tale of two halves but with the score tied and the game on the line, quarterback Cam Newton took control. It was up to him to lead the Tigers to victory.
When the second half began, Auburn led Kentucky by a score of 31-17 but it did not take long for Wildcat quarterback Mike Hartline to score two third-quarter touchdowns. Just as the fourth quarter began, Auburn would answer with a 19-yard field goal by Wes Byrum to put the Tigers back on top by three.
Kentucky would tie the score again with a field goal of their own, however, their offense would not get back on the field for the remainder of the game. At this point in the game, the Auburn coaches and players took control and never looked back.
Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is known for his ability to strike quick, using only two, three, or four plays to score. Normally, he runs the offense using a very fast tempo but not this time. No, this time would be different, as Malzahn would use 19 plays and the remainder of the clock to score the game-winning points for the Tigers.
The picture-perfect, game-winning drive was a masterpiece of clock management and play-calling. If there is an award for SEC Coordinator of the Week, it should go to Malzahn. Coaches can call the right plays, but in the end, it is up to the players to execute. Before the game-winning drive began, it almost ended with an attempted reverse by special teams on the kickoff. The ball was fumbled on the exchange and Auburn was very fortunate to recover so close to their own goal line.
Deep in their own territory, the Auburn Tigers would use every weapon in their arsenal to go 86 yards for the final score. Determined runs by Newton, Dyer, and McCalebb helped the Tigers pick up first downs when they needed them the most. A 17-yard reception by Terrell Zachary and a 39-yard catch and run by Darvin Adams earned critical first downs and kept the drive alive.
As the Auburn offense drove down the field, Wes Byrum walked the sidelines, telling his teammates that he would make the field goal for them if given a chance. Byrum recognized that his team had fought hard all night and he would not be the one to let them down.
Quarterback Cam Newton ran the final seven plays himself. Newton would take a knee as time dwindled away. In came Wes Byrum. Kentucky had no timeouts and no ability to ice the kicker. It probably wouldn't have mattered anyway. On the last play of the game, Wes Byrum placed the kick in the middle of the uprights and improved his resume by adding his fifth career game-winning field goal.
When Gene Chizik spoke Thursday evening on his weekly radio show, he stated that he would run Cam Newton more than the coaches would prefer if that were what it took to win. When it was all said and done, that is what it took to win. Auburn quarterback Cam Newton finished the game with 28 carries and 198 yards rushing. He ran for all four of Auburn's touchdowns and passed for 210 yards, completing 13 out of 21 passes with one interception.
Auburn's Cam Newton was not the only "super" player on the field Saturday night. Kentucky's do-everything player, Randall Cobb, caused Auburn a few headaches as he found a way to be dangerous and elusive in the second half. Cobb ran the ball 11 times for 47 yards and caught seven passes for 68 yards. Those look like modest stats until you notice just how much he did against the Auburn Tigers.
Kentucky Wildcat Randall Cobb ran for two touchdowns, caught a 16-yard touchdown pass and completed a pass for one more touchdown. Cobb earned 86 yards on kickoff returns and finished the game with a total of 207 all-purpose yards.
Auburn went on the road and came away with a very important victory. Unfortunately, the team continues to make costly mistakes. The Tigers were penalized eight times for 87 yards. In my opinion, some of the calls made against Auburn were petty and I do not believe they should have been called. Others were accurate as Auburn players were very guilty. As long as Auburn continues to play with a lot intensity, a few penalties will occur from time to time. Tiger players must refrain from costly penalties that give the opposing team a first down. This must stop immediately.
Also, special teams coach Jay Boulware must make some corrections on kickoff coverage. This area of the team struggled on Saturday and has been problematic since last season. Auburn continues to struggle on kickoff returns and if they do not repair this issue quickly, it will hurt them very soon.
Auburn was much better on punt returns, an area that has also been a sore spot at times for the Tigers. Let's hope the improved play in this area continues. Special teams play is very important. Auburn will not win the SEC West and play in the championship game if play on parts of the special teams does not improve rapidly.
When it counted, Auburn got the job done on both sides of the ball. Give the defense a lot of credit for its stellar play on Saturday. I realize many fans believe Auburn did not play as well as they should have in the second half against the Wildcats. Actually, the Kentucky Wildcats stepped up their game and hit Auburn hard with a very good second-half game plan.
Auburn coaches were a little baffled in the third quarter. Consequently, the players were a little baffled as well. Although Kentucky fought back to tie the game more than once in the second half, Auburn's defense deserves a lot of praise. The defense held the Wildcats to 17 points in the first half and when it was all said and done, that good work helped to seal another victory.
Although he was flagged on consecutive plays for pass interference and a personal foul, Auburn safety Zac Etheridge had a stellar game against the Wildcats. Etheridge led Auburn in tackles with eight solo and three assists. Daren Bates followed with six solo tackles, two assists, and he also forced a fumble. Nick Fairley led the defensive line in tackles with three. T'sharvan Bell also had a good night, earning six solo tackles against a rugged Wildcat running game.
Coach Gene Chizik has turned Auburn football around, but he still has a long way to go if he wants to take the team to the SEC championship game. Cam Newton believes the Auburn Tigers are growing in team chemistry and confidence due to so many come-from-behind wins.
The Auburn Tigers have won 60 consecutive games when they have scored at least 30 points. This trend could come to an end against a team like Arkansas if the team is unable to correct some issues right away. Then again, confidence and team chemistry just might pull them through no matter what. How good the Auburn Tigers really are has not truly been determined, but we'll know soon enough.
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