Johnson’s career-best 5 TDs lead No. 15 Auburn past Missouri (Sep 23, 2017)

Missouri running back Damarea Crockett, right, is wrapped up by Auburn's Montavious Atkinson, left, during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Kerryon Johnson had no idea how many touchdowns he had scored, even as they kept adding up.

The Auburn running back was simply focused on his much-awaited return to the field after two weeks off following a hamstring injury.

Johnson made the most of that return on Saturday night, scoring a career-high five times as the No. 15 Tigers (3-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) made quick work of struggling Missouri (1-3, 0-2) in a 51-14 victory.

The junior did most of his work in short-yardage situations, scoring three times on 1-yard runs and adding others from 2 and 7 yards out. More than anything, his presence – along with 48 yards rushing on 18 carries – provided a boost for an Auburn offense that had struggled to find its expected explosiveness in recent weeks.

”It was fun, it’s been a long two weeks, but it was good rest, and just getting back out there with those guys and competing was fun for me,” Johnson said.

As productive as Johnson was, he had plenty of backing in the form of Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham and a defense that forced four Missouri turnovers.

Stidham started the fun for Auburn’s offense with a 58-yard completion to Kyle Davis on the school’s first possession, and he rarely let up from there – finishing with 218 yards passing and a touchdown on 13-of-17 passing.

Preseason All-SEC cornerback Carlton Davis accounted for one of Auburn’s forced turnovers, snaring a tipped pass by Missouri quarterback Drew Lock in the first quarter and setting up Auburn’s second score of the game.

”First of all, I’m very pleased with the win on the road in the SEC,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. ”We were pretty balanced. I thought our defense played outstanding again.”

For Missouri, the loss was yet another disappointment in a season full of them – even in the school’s up-and-down 72-43 win over Football Championship Series rival Missouri State to open the season.

Lock finished 23-of-39 passing for 216 yards and a pair of touchdowns for Missouri, which allowed its most points since a 63-37 loss to Tennessee last season.

”It’s unfortunate that we again get into a situation where we were minus four in the turnover margin, gave up explosive plays on defense and didn’t sustain drives offensively,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. ”For us, right now that’s who we are.”

THE TAKEAWAY

AUBURN: The Tigers’ offense entered the game looking like anything but a Malzahn-coached team, having allowed 11 sacks in a loss to Clemson and committing five turnovers in last week’s win over Mercer. Aided by Johnson’s return, Auburn returned to its high-scoring form from the start – highlighted by completions of 58 and 46 yards by Stidham in the first half.

”Collectively as a team, I think we’re starting to kind of find our edge, kind of get in our groove,” Stidham said.

MISSOURI: Missouri’s season-long struggles with defense continued on Saturday night, with the Tigers allowing 482 yards of total offense by Auburn. Missouri entered the game 103rd in the country and last in the SEC in total defense, and its problems showed in particular in the first half – when Auburn scored 31 points and scored on all four of its red zone chances.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Regardless of how big the margin of victory, a win over lowly Missouri was unlikely to help Auburn re-establish itself as the SEC’s top contender to No. 1 Alabama. The re-emergence of the Tigers’ offense, however, should be a good sign with six straight SEC games on the horizon.

UP NEXT

AUBURN: The Tigers play their first game against an SEC West Division opponent when they host No. 17 Mississippi State next week.

MISSOURI: After four straight home games to open the season, Missouri is off next week before traveling to Kentucky on Oct. 7.

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