SEC football finally returned Saturday, and it brought a defensive slugfest as the No. 8 Auburn Tigers beat the No. 23 Kentucky Wildcats 29-13 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama.
The Auburn offense didn't move the ball with much consistency, but its defense made two fourth-down stops and forced three turnovers, including a fumble in the fourth quarter that allowed the Tigers to extend a two-point lead to nine.
Auburn also had a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown at the end of the first half get called back because of targeting.
Quarterback Bo Nix and wide receiver Seth Williams connected for two touchdowns as well.
Bo Nix, QB, AUB: 16/27 for 233 YDS, 3 TD, 0 INT; 5 CAR for 34 YDS
Terry Wilson, QB, KEN: 24/37 for 239 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT; 13 CAR for 42 YDS
Seth Williams, WR, AUB: 6 REC for 112 YDS and 2 TD
Eli Stove, WR, AUB: 4 REC for 55 YDS and 1 TD
Josh Ali, WR, KEN: 9 REC for 98 YDS
Kavosiey Smoke, RB, KEN: 7 CAR for 62 YDS and 1 TD; 2 REC for 10 YDS
Nix Overcomes Slow Start, Throws 3 TDs in 2nd Half
The Auburn offense was listless in the first half save for a seven-play, 70-yard drive capped with a one-yard touchdown run by D.J. Williams followed by a two-point conversion that led to an 8-7 lead.
Nix had just 90 passing yards, and, as pointed out by Mike Bratton of Saturday Down South, his biggest highlights were pooch punts:
Nix and Co. finally awoke from their slumber in the second half. It was not surprising Nix got the Tigers offense back on track by looking in Seth Williams' direction.
The duo started a drive with a 25-yard connection, and with 5:42 remaining in the third quarter, Nix threw a high pass into the end zone that Williams snatched for an 11-yard touchdown:
ESPN's Adam Rittenberg was among those who saw the positives:
Kentucky cut the deficit to 15-13 at the end of the third quarter with Terry Wilson's eight-yard pass to Akeem Hayes, but Nix cashed in on two huge defensive plays.
After a fumble recovery, he found Seth Williams in the end zone again for a four-yard score on 3rd-and-goal. Then, two plays after Kentucky turned it over on downs with an unsuccessful fake punt, Nix threw a 21-yard scoring pass to Eli Stove.
Justin Ferguson of the Auburn Observer noted Nix performed better Saturday than he did in almost any game as a freshman:
It was far from an ideal start, but the fact that Nix bounced back in the second half against a strong defense bodes well for him and the Tigers in the competitive SEC.
If Nix can turn in similar performances and the defense continues to shine, Auburn may have a fighting chance to reach the College Football Playoff.
Wilson Looks Rusty in 1st Game in Over a Year
Wilson, Kentucky's senior quarterback, appeared in a game for the first time in more than a year.
He missed all but two games last season with a knee injury, and it was clear he was rusty.
He completed three straight passes on an 11-play, 93-yard drive that gave Kentucky a 7-0 in the first quarter—Kavosiey Smoke capped it with a 35-yard scoring jaunt—but that was essentially the high point for the Wildcats.
With Kentucky facing 3rd-and-goal at the 1-yard line and on the verge of a 14-8 lead at the end of the first half, Wilson was intercepted in the end zone. Two plays prior, Chris Rodriguez Jr. had seemingly crossed the goal line for a touchdown, but the officials ruled he had been stopped short, and the call stood upon a replay review.
He had a chance to tie the game late in the third after the touchdown pass to Hayes, but Kyle Tucker of The Athletic pointed out Wilson inexplicably threw the ball away on the two-point conversion attempt:
Wilson then fumbled the ball early in the fourth quarter while making a spin move, which led to Seth Williams' second touchdown and a 22-13 lead.
Jon Hale of the Courier Journal and Jake Rowe of 247Sports called for him to cut out those mistakes:
Wilson also rushed for only 42 yards on 13 carries, an aspect that will be worth monitoring since his legs are a big part of his effectiveness.
Perhaps Wilson will get his feet under him as he takes more snaps.
Auburn will face one of its toughest challenges of the season next week when it visits the No. 4-ranked Georgia Bulldogs.
Meanwhile, Kentucky will look to bounce back when it hosts the Lane Kiffin-coached Ole Miss Rebels.