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AUBURN – In the days leading up to the Penn State game, the power and impact of Jordan-Hare Stadium was frequently mentioned and even hyped up by Auburn. While that game proved to be a one-sided affair, the magic may have struck a week late in the Tigers' SEC opener as Auburn managed to survive a fight against Missouri, 17-14.
Missouri appeared to have the game firmly in hand with three seconds remaining in the game, after the Tigers of the SEC East marched over 60 yards in under two minutes following a failed fourth-down run from Auburn deep in Missouri territory.
“In that moment, it was like, we need to go for it. Right, you're here to win this football game. And I thought that was the right call,” Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin said. “I really believed our guys can get that. And that we needed that as well.”
From the eight, with three seconds to go, Missouri placekicker Harrison Mevis went for the Tigers’ first win over Auburn since they joined the SEC, but the kick went wide-right and this game, in yet another twist, was heading to overtime.
Auburn took command early, with a methodical 14-play drive in which the Tigers did not pass the ball, sticking to the ground for all 59 yards of a touchdown drive that was capped off by an 11 yard scramble from first-time starter Robby Ashford.
The defense cruised early with a sack from Colby Wooden on Missouri’s first possession and an interception from Derick Hall on the second, Auburn’s first forced turnover of the year.
More runs, and two completions from Robby Ashford led to a Tank Bigsby touchdown and a 14-0 lead for Auburn. Then the second quarter came and the game flipped.
Missouri took complete control, with 137 yards and two touchdowns on the two drives of the half for the Tigers of the SEC East. Auburn struggled to find anything resembling the first quarter, with -8 yards on the first two drives of the second quarter, followed by a last gasp drive that ended in a miss from Anders Carlson, leaving the score at 14-14 going into halftime.
“Really 0-0 at halftime was what it was. And you know, everybody sat down dehydrated, they got on the whiteboards and started making adjustments and things we had to do,” Harsin said.
The score would remain tied for the entire second half as the team’s traded punts, 13 combined, and field position as neither offense could find any success or momentum until late in the fourth quarter.
The third quarter was a slugfest of 66 combined total yards and neither team averaged over one yard per carry and the fourth quarter was not much better, but Missouri did have the advantage with 92 yards, most coming on that last drive.
The teams headed to overtime and Auburn got the ball first, losing two yards and setting up another Anders Carlson field goal, his third attempt of the day.
To end the first half, Carlson had a 50-yard attempt which sailed left, but a penalty on Missouri gave the veteran kicker a second attempt from 45 yards out, but he missed that one to the right.
Despite his struggles, the team would turn to him yet again for a chance to take the lead in the first overtime.
“We trust Anders. I mean, there's no doubt about it,” Harsin said. “Really just capture it with just executing and doing your assignment, which is what he did when we needed him the most and he was able to help us win the game.”
Anders missed the first attempt, but another penalty from Missouri would give him a second chance to give Auburn the lead in a crucial time.
The veteran, and one of the greatest kickers in the history of Auburn nailed it and Auburn was finally back on the board after a scoreless drought that lasted over 45 minutes.
“He never blinked. I didn't either. I know Anders, played with him now for six years,” John Samuel Shenker said. “He's a really, really tough guy, you have to be to play that position. And he showed that today.”
Missouri got the ball next, and it was all Nathaniel Peat. The senior running back got five yards on the first play and on second down he broke through the Auburn defense on a 20 yard run and stretched for the endzone, but he lost control of the ball before crossing the goal line and Cayden Bridges recovered, securing a narrow victory for the Tigers of Auburn.
“I'm not gonna lie, it was a good fit. I didn't know whether he had it and I thought he got in and then fumbled it, but I wasn't sure so,” Auburn defensive lineman Colby Wooden said. “Everybody was excited and you know, ready to get back to tomorrow.”
Wooden had one sack, 1.5 tackles for loss and one quarterback hurry as the Auburn defense stepped up to the plate and delivered its best performance of the year. The Tigers had four sacks and seven tackles for loss overall, truly shutting down the Missouri offense for the majority of the game.
They held Missouri to 313 yards overall as well as 4 of 13 on third down, as well as forcing two turnovers, after failing to force one in the first three games.
“We really leaned on our defense a lot. And those guys, they came up big, I thought the D line did a really good job,” Harsin said. “It was huge for our defense to get those stops to get the ball back in our offense’s hands, and they did everything they could to give us a chance to put more points on the board.”
The Auburn offense as a whole struggled, Ashford and Holden Geriner finished with a combined 14 completions on 21 attempts for 135 yards as the Tigers managed just 131 yards after the first quarter.
Tank Bigsby was more involved in the offense, with 19 carries, but the offensive line struggled again at the line of scrimmage and the junior running back gained just 44 yards on the ground.
Despite this, Auburn survived and advanced, winning their first game in SEC play with a huge matchup against LSU on the horizon.
“Our defense, they just played their butts off. You can't thank them enough. We didn't have a great game on offense,” Ashford said. “I love this team, it’s a great win. No matter how hard it was, no matter how ugly it was, it was still a great team win, we persevered and overcame and came out on top.”
Auburn will be back inside Jordan-Hare Stadium for the fifth game in a row to take on LSU at 6 p.m. CST. The Tigers of Auburn will be looking to get their second straight victory over their foes from Louisiana in the 57th Tiger Bowl.
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