Auburn fends off Kentucky rally to earn first SEC victory
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Peyton Barber rushed for two short touchdowns, including a 3-yarder with 7:56 remaining, helping Auburn outlast Kentucky 30-27 Thursday night and earn its first Southeastern Conference victory.
Sorely needing a conference win in hopes of contending in the West division, the Tigers (4-2, 1-2 SEC) started and closed strong behind Barber, who rushed for a 1-yard TD on their opening drive. His second score was the biggest, providing a critical buffer against Mikel Horton’s 1-yard TD run with 4:06 left that brought Kentucky within a field goal.
Barber finished with 92 yards on 26 carries, and Kerryon Johnson added 36 yards, including a 6-yard TD. Sean White threw for 255 yards, 154 to Ricardo Louis as the Tigers won their ninth straight in Lexington.
Kentucky’s final attempt to at least tie the game ended with quarterback Patrick Towles being sacked on fourth down with 25 seconds left.
Auburn was outgained 497-407 but made several timely plays of both sides of the ball, including the defensive stand that denied Kentucky three yards on two plays on its final drive.
Auburn hasn’t always played like that after starting the season ranked sixth before falling out of the top 25, but the Tigers made Kentucky (4-2, 2-2) play catch-up all night and maintained its dominance at Commonwealth Stadium.
Auburn set the tone right away with touchdowns on its first two possessions and points on five of its first six drives. White had a lot to do with those first two TDs, using lots of time to find receivers and complete his first three third-down passes for 59 yards alone. He completed 17 of 27 passes without an interception and was sacked just once.
Barber and Johnson capped both drives with TD runs and Daniel Carlson added field goals from 34, 29 and 52 yards, his third from beyond 50 this season.
Kentucky managed to tie the game on its first possession thanks to speedy sophomore Boom Williams, who returned from a one-game absence to handle personal matters. He quickly made his presence felt by taking a delayed handoff for 60 yards to the Auburn 3 before scoring from the 1 two plays later.
The Wildcats had a great chance to tie it early in the second quarter after getting first and goal at the 8. But Auburn’s Carlton Davis intercepted Towles in the end zone, snapping Kentucky’s streak of 27 straight red-zone scores dating back to last season.
That defensive play symbolized the difference between Auburn and Kentucky, which struggled to contain the Tigers for much of the night. Even when Auburn drives stalled, Carlson’s sure foot provided a 23-10 halftime lead that seemed likely to expand the way its offense was clicking.
Kentucky used the break to regroup on both sides of the ball and score 10 unanswered points to make things interesting.
Towles completed four passes for 50 yards and Williams added four runs for 25 including a 6-yard TD. Austin MacGinnis’ 31-yard field goal brought Kentucky within 23-20 entering the fourth quarter, and the Wildcats seemed to be rolling.
That’s when Auburn’s offense awoke from a scoreless third quarter to provide the crucial score and spoil Kentucky’s first Thursday night home game since 1939 before a sellout crowd.
Towles was 27 of 44 for 359 yards passing. Williams gained 113 yards on 16 carries.