The narrative that Auburn cannot win a big game away from Jordan-Hare Stadium may have lost some merit on Saturday. Auburn toughed out an hard fought 21-16 victory over the Washington Huskies. They also made sure not to lose three consecutive games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Auburn Makes Statement Against Washington
This was a game that was needed for both schools for different reasons. Washington came into the game with the weight of the PAC-12 on its shoulders. The PAC-12 has taken a huge perception hit the last year due to not getting a team into the College Football Playoff and for a lackluster bowl record last season. Auburn needed this game for the reasons stated above and because of a daunting schedule they did not want to begin the season in the loss column.
Going into the game it was going to be a difficult task for Washington to be able to block the Auburn defensive front. Early on Saturday morning news broke that the Huskies would be without All-American left tackle due to a back injury. What Washington did have going for them was fourth year starting quarterback Jake Browning and elite rushing back Myles Gaskin
While Auburn was bringing back quarterback Jarrett Stidham and an elite defensive front that can only be rivaled by Clemson, there were questions with this team. Who will be the running back? What will the offensive line look like?
Auburn Hot Early
Auburn was safely the team with the home-field advantage with a majority of the fans wearing orange and blue. The defense fed off that energy from the Auburn faithful to force a quick three and out for Washington. That was followed by a 32 yard punt return for Ryan Davis that set Auburn up at the Washington 36. Five plays later Jarrett Stidham would throw the first of many touchdowns this season when he hit receiver Sal Cannella for a ten yard touchdown pass in the back corner of the endzone.
It would be awhile before Auburn put six on the board again. They would have to settle for three Anders Carlson field goals to only have 15 points at halftime.
It was not a good start for Washington quarterback Jake Browning. Browning started the game 2 for 8 but would close out the half 8 for 12. This included a touchdown pass to Quinten Pounds to close out the half and only trail 15-13.
Third Quarter Miscues
A common theme throughout the game would be issues teams had in the redzone. Auburn had that issue in the second half with having four trips and only coming away with one touchdown. Washington would have problems with that as the game got into the third quarter. On their first possession of the second half the Huskies would get a Aaron Fuller touchdown catch called back due to an illegal chip play near the endzone. This would lead to a 40-yard field goal attempt by Peyton Henry. Auburn would follow this up on their next possession with another miss by Anders Carlson.
On a third and goal with under 6:00 left in the third quarter the Huskies uncharacteristically put Browning under center. This did not work. Browning committed his second turnover of the game by fumbling the ball when Nick Coe hit the quarterback to cause the fumble that was recovered by Darrell Williams of Auburn.
The score stayed at 15-13 as the fourth quarter began.
Auburn Finds A Way
The question coming into the season was who will step up at running back? Now, they may have not answered who will be the long-term starter, but a play-maker was born Saturday afternoon. On the game-winning touchdown drive for Auburn both Kam Martin and JaTarvious Whitlow had big runs that were allowed because of the massive holes the offensive line was able to open. Whitlow would be the one that would carry the game-winning score and he showed off his speed and more importantly his power and toughness. Before he crossed the goal line he was met by multiple Washington defenders but he would not be denied.
At this point there was 6:15 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Auburn defensive line was about to let the nation know they are not to be messed with this season. While Washington did drive down the field when it mattered most they put constant heat on Jake Browning. On 4th and 16 with 1:31 defensive coordinator Kevin Steele dialed up an all out blitz that resulted in an intentional grounding on Browning due to pressure.
Auburn then would get the ball back and run out the clock to secure a victory. With this win, Auburn let all of college football know the SEC would not be just a two team race this season.
Next week Auburn will play their first home game at Jordan-Hare Stadium and welcome the Alabama State Hornets to town.