Nine years ago, Auburn beat Oregon on a last-second field goal. Saturday night, quarterback Bo Nix didn’t want to put it on the kicker again. Instead, the true freshman tossed a 26-yard touchdown pass to Seth Williams with nine seconds left to lead the Tigers past Oregon, 27-21, in the season opener.
On the play before, Nix completed a 13-yard pass to Williams to put the Tigers in field-goal range with a chance to win. But rather than play it safe, he took a shot on the next play, throwing a jump ball to Williams who wrestled it away from the defender at the goal line.
“We just really wanted to give Seth one chance to have a 50/50 ball,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “Bo underthrew it just a little bit, and Seth tipped it to himself and made a big-time play. It was a really good win. Our locker room is really excited. I’m real proud of those guys. We found a way to win, especially when we didn’t play our best.”
The touchdown gave Auburn its first lead of the game and capped a 15-point second-half comeback. It was the largest comeback since the 2010 Alabama game when the Tigers overcame a 24-point deficit to win 28-27.
What changed? For starters, the defense clamped down in the second half and made a huge stop on fourth down midway through the fourth quarter to thwart an Oregon drive and keep it a one-point game. The offense also found its rhythm with Nix under center.
Nix, the first true freshman to start at quarterback in an Auburn season opener since 1946, threw for 177 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 42 yards in his first college game. His first career touchdown pass came late in the third quarter when he threw a quick pass to Eli Stove who took it in from 11 yards out to cut the Oregon lead to 21-13.
“He has some savviness to him,” Malzahn said. “When the game is on the line you have to make plays, and that’s the one thing he showed. In all fairness, it was his first start. He went against one of the better teams in the country. In this kind of environment, he did some really good things.”
On the opening drive of the fourth quarter, Auburn used a heavy dose of running back JaTarvious Whitlow to get down to the goal line where it was backup quarterback Joey Gatewood who took his first snap and scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 21-20.
Whitlow recorded his fourth career 100-yard rushing game with 110 yards on 24 carries. The sophomore also surpassed 1,000 career all-purpose yards (897 rushing, 173 receiving). As a team, the Tigers ran for 206 yards and threw for 177 yards in Saturday’s win.
Defensively, safety Jeremiah Dinson led Auburn with 13 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack — the third of his career. K.J. Britt, making his first start at middle linebacker, finished second on the team with seven tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss.
It was also a career night for defensive lineman Tyrone Truesdell, another first-time starter, who made two clutch stops late and recorded six tackles, one for a loss and half a sack.
At the half, Auburn trailed, 14-6, and it could have been worse if not for an 83-yard fumble recovery from Big Kat Bryant who led to an Anders Carlson field goal and swung the momentum. It was the longest fumble return by an Auburn player through records dating back to 1996.
With the win, the Tigers open the season 1-0 for the third straight year. They will return home next week to face Tulane in the first game at Jordan-Hare Stadium.