NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Auburn (5-4, 2-4) defeated Vanderbilt (2-8, 0-6) 31-15 Saturday afternoon in Nashville. Auburn's offense finally broke 30 points for the first time in conference play, but the defense was the story of the day.
"I'm so proud of our defense," Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze said.
Auburn's defense forced six three-and-outs on the day and held the Commodores to just 266 total yards of offense on the day, with just 93 yards of offense in the first half. The biggest moment of the game for the defense came with just under six minutes left in the fourth quarter.
At this point, Auburn led 31-15, but Vanderbilt found some momentum after a touchdown drive and then forcing an Auburn punt. A few big pass plays put them in the red zone, but Auburn's defense would bear down and answer the call.
With first and ten at Auburn's 10-yard line, Auburn defensive linemen Marcus Harris and Cam Riley would combine to sack Vanderbilt quarterback Ken Seals. It pushed the Commodores all the way back to outside the twenty. The Tigers would finish with five sacks on the night.
"Oh, that sack was pretty good," Riley said. "In my head, I would say I gotta make this play. I'm going to seal this game with a sack."
Seals would scramble for a minimal gain on second down before DJ James would come up with a huge pass break-up in the end zone on third down. Vanderbilt was forced to go for it on fourth down, and Auburn would once again force an incompletion.
While Auburn's defense came up huge late in the game, their first half was equally important. The Tigers went up 14-0 early, but after a costly pick-six thrown by quarterback Payton Thorne, the defense needed to squash Vanderbilt's momentum.
The Tigers defense would do just that. They forced a three and out on the Commodores next possession and would not allow a touchdown until late in the 3rd quarter. That would be the only score the defense would give up the entire night.
"You know, I just looked at Marcus (Harris) after that one drive where I thought we were sloppy, and he said that won't happen again," Freeze said. "We're going to get it fixed, and they bow their neck the rest of the game."
Vanderbilt would get one more possession late in the game, but Auburn defensive back Nehemiah Pritchett would seal the deal with an interception. Auburn has forced at least one turnover in each of its games this season, and they did not want to lose the streak.
"I was so excited for me and my man (Nehemiah Pritchett)," Auburn defensive back DJ James said. "We still keep this streak going."
Auburn had lost their last two games at Vanderbilt, but this year's team was not going to let that happen. The Tigers are now only one win away from bowl eligibility, something they failed to accomplish last season.
"So I did kind of go away and say that (bowl eligibility) is a goal of ours," Freeze said. "You're one step close, but you have some hard games left too."
Auburn will stay on the road next weekend as they travel to Fayetteville to take on Arkansas. They will have the chance to get the crucial sixth win next Saturday, and they'll look for their defense to lead them once again. The game will kick off at 3 p.m. C.T. on the SEC Network.