Auburn pulls away from Kentucky, win 29-13

Bo Nix threw three second-half touchdown passes and No. 8 Auburn’s defense forced three turnovers to lead the Tigers to a 29-13 season-opening win over No. 23 Kentucky Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

“Very pround of our team,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “We talked about playing and fighting for 60 minutes in honor of Coach Dye. Our guys did that. The defense and offense complemented each other. The defense getting three turnovers was huge.”

Nix connected twice with Seth Williams and once with Eli Stove, completing 16 of 27 passes for 233 yards with no turnovers. Nix and Williams teamed up six times for 112 yards and two touchdowns.

“They’re on the same page,” Malzahn said. “They’re starting to develop that special connection between a quarterback and a receiver.”

Trailing 7-0 after Kentucky scored on its opening drive, Auburn answered with a 7-yard, seven-play drive to take the lead. After D. J. Williams’ 1-yard touchdown run, Grant Loy’s two-point conversion pass to John Samuel Shenker gave Auburn an 8-7 lead.

“That gave us a shot in the arm and changed the dynamics of the game,” Malzahn said of the PAT.

Late in the half, Kentucky threatened to take the lead, but Roger McCreary intercepted Terry Wilson’s pass in Auburn’s end zone, returning 100 yards for a touchdown that was negated by a penalty on the return.

“The momentum and not giving up any points to still have the lead at halftime was huge,” Malzahn said. “We kept them out of the end zone, but it would have been really good to get seven.”

On third-and-goal from the 11, Nix rolled right and threw to Williams, who elevated in the end zone for a touchdown that extended Auburn’s lead to 15-7 with 5:42 left in the third quarter.

“You know he’ll go up and make the catch,” Nix said. “Just a great catch.”

Wilson threw a touchdown pass to trim Auburn’s lead to 15-13, but the Tigers’ defense forced an incomplete pass on Kentucky’s two-point attempt to preserve the lead late in the third quarter.

Jamien Sherwood recovered a fumble early in the fourth quarter to give Auburn possession at Kentucky’s 23-yard line.

Four plays later on third-and-goal from the 4, Nix targeted Williams, who outmuscled his defender to record his second touchdown, putting Auburn in front 22-13 with 10:21 left in the game.

Kentucky tried a fake punt, but Jordyn Peters ran down the Wildcats’ punter for a 3-yard loss, giving Auburn the ball on UK’s 27.

Auburn quickly capitalized two plays later when Nix connected with Eli Stove for a 27-yard touchdown that increased Auburn’s lead to 29-13.

“A perfect throw,” Malzahn said.

McCreary forced a fumble that Owen Pappoe recovered for Auburn’s third turnover. Pappoe and DaQuan Newkirk each made sacks among the Tigers’ eight tackles for loss. K.J. Britt led Auburn with 11 tackles while Smoke Monday made 10, both career highs.

Auburn University students comprised the majority of the 17,490 in attendance, 20 percent of Jordan-Hare Stadium’s pre-pandemic capacity.

“I really want to give a shoutout to our students,” Malzahn said. “They were extremely loud, especially in the fourth quarter. They made a big difference.”

Auburn honored former coach Pat Dye, who died on June 1, by wearing helmet decals with Dye’s initials and the words “Sixty Minutes,” referencing Dye’s famous answer when asked at his introductory press conference how long it would take Auburn to beat its in-state rival.

Malzahn paid homage to Dye by wearing the College Football Hall of Fame coach’s traditional gameday attire: a white short-sleeve shirt, tie and Auburn hat.

“We just wanted to honor Coach Dye,” Malzahn said. “A lot of our players were extremely close to Coach Dye. Trying to honor him by playing good, hard-nosed Auburn football for 60 minutes. Our guys rose to the occasion today.”

The Tigers make their first road trip next Saturday when they play at Georgia in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry at 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPN and the Auburn Sports Network.

“I’m excited for our team,” Malzahn said. “It gave us a good measuring stick. There’s a lot of things we can clean up, but we’ll work extremely hard to do that moving forward.”