Auburn, Ala. - A D.J. James pick-six in the fourth quarter shows just how well the Auburn defense was able to adjust in the second half.
The Auburn Tigers (5-6, 2-5 SEC) hosted the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (7-5, 5-2 C-USA) at Jordan-Hare Stadium today. When it was all said and done, the Tigers walked away with a 41-17 win.
Much like a few other games this season, Auburn had offensive success early. The Tiger's first offensive drive covered 68 yards in 13 plays and ended with Tank Bigsby punching a touchdown in from the one-yard line.
"We have been stressing all week about how we want to start fast," Auburn interim head coach Cadillac Williams said. "Felt like if we start fast we could jump on them and make them quit."
The biggest moment of the first half came when half-back Jarquez Hunter connected with Koy Moore for a 20-yard touchdown. The play call was the same one that the Auburn offense used back in 2004 when Williams was a star half-back on the team.
“He did it so I had to do it, too. But I had to make mine better," Hunter said. “Coach (Williams) said that we are going to call it early in the game. And that we have to get ahead of it and make it happen.”
A tale of two halves is an appropriate description of this game. The score was tied at 17 when halftime hit. Auburn had given up 290 yards, 222 through the air, and 68 on the ground. The Auburn defense had a completely different showing in the second half, holding the Hilltoppers to 106 yards and zero points, as well as forcing two turnovers.
"But, being tied 17-17 going into half, to hear D-Hall and all those seniors come up and rally the troops," Williams said. "And I know you all want me to talk about what we did in the second half and what the adjustment was so great. Man, those guys went in there, and I honestly left the room and let them handle it."
Auburn showed a lot of second-half improvement on the offensive side of the ball as well. After having only 164 yards of total offense in the first half, the Tigers added on 210 in the second and scored on three of their six second-half possessions.
A big turning point came for Auburn when its last drive of the third quarter covered 78 yards in seven plays, being capped off with a 35-yard touchdown run from Bigsby. It was all about the Tigers from that point onward.
Auburn's ground attack took center stage once again, as the Tigers had two players rush for more than 100 yards in the same game for the second week in a row. Bigsby ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns off of 18 carries. Jarquez Hunter ran for 109 yards and one touchdown off of 13 carries.
"Come halftime we challenged the offensive line. I told them they are getting their butt kicked in the trenches. I look right at the running backs and tell them to break tackles," Williams said. "We need extra yards. It is a combination of all of that. The players responded to what they have been doing all year.”
Today was Senior Day at Jordan-Hare Stadium, as this was the last home game of the 2022 season for the Tigers.
“My time here has been nothing short of amazing. Auburn is a very special place. I came here as a 17-year-old boy and I'm leaving as a 22-year-old man. Auburn has done a lot for me and I'll forever be indebted to this place," edge rusher Derrick Hall said. "I'll be forever indebted to the people here, but I know one thing about Auburn. They say if you love Auburn, then Auburn will love you back.”
Auburn will be back in action next week as it travels up to Tuscaloosa to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 87th edition of one of college football's most intense rivalries, The Iron Bowl. Kick-off is set for 2:30 p.m. and the game will be televised on CBS.