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Auburn defeats Kentucky 29-13 in season opener

It was a strange day at Jordan Hare Stadium. There was no tail gaiting, no TigerWalk, no marching band on the field and only about 18,000 fans attendance. Gus Malzahn also ditched his traditional sweater vest and visor for a throwback Auburn hat and an orange and blue tie to honor the late Pat Dye.

Once the game started, things did not look very normal for Tiger fans either. The University of Kentucky Wildcats arrived in Auburn with the intention to dominate the line of scrimmage and come away victorious. The first 29 minutes and 34 seconds of the game pointed toward that happening.

Even though the Wildcats were trailing 8-7, the visitors were seemingly in complete control of the game. Kentucky went up and down the field, chewing up the clock along the way. Auburn did not appear to have any answer to Kentucky’s rushing attack and were struggling to move the ball on offense as well.

Then with less than a minute remaining in the second quarter, the Auburn defense made a couple of stops at the goal line and Kentucky chose to attempt a pass on third down. Auburn’s Roger McCreary stepped in front of Terry Wilson’s pass and returned it for what appeared to be a touchdown at the time.

Even though McCreary’s return was called back due to a penalty, that play provided the Tigers with only their second stop of the Wildcats on third down for the entire half. Forcing that turnover and keeping Kentucky out of the endzone really changed the game today.

That momentum carried over into the second half where Auburn forced a punt, fumble recovery or turnover on downs on all but one of Kentucky’s possessions in the final 30 minutes of the contest. The Auburn defense that had to defend 41 plays in the first half because they could not get off the field on third down made the necessary adjustments at halftime to make some stops and give the offense opportunities to put points on the board.

The Tigers’ new look offense only got the ball four times in the first half due to Kentucky possessing the ball for most of the opening 30 minutes of the game. In those early possessions it was difficult for Bo Nix to get in a rhythm or the rushing attack to find much room to work.

However, as the game wore on, Auburn found one thing that worked extremely well…getting the ball to Seth Williams. The standout receiver was clearly the best player on the field today. Seemingly every time that Nix looked Williams’ way good things happened, including two stellar contested catches for touchdowns in the second half.

In addition to finding Williams, the Chad Morris offense did a nice job of mixing runs, RPOs, screens, play-action passes and even some drop back passes once they were able to possess the ball in the second half of the game. Between Auburn’s defense giving Auburn short fields because of turnovers and the offense stringing together big plays, the Tigers pulled away from Kentucky in the fourth quarter.

It was far from a perfect performance from Auburn today. The Tigers must settle in to a starting offensive line group in hopes of bolstering the rushing attack. Bo Nix had a productive day throwing the ball, but he left a few plays on the field that he would like to have back. On defense, Auburn seemed to adjust to the Kentucky running game, but still struggled to pressure the quarterback without blitzing.

With that being said, the Tigers did enough in their season opener to win the game against a hungry opponent that many of the experts picked to defeat them. The best situation for a developing team is to come away with things to improve upon while winning the game. Auburn did exactly that against Kentucky.

Gus Malzahn and his team deserve to enjoy a hard fought victory today because they earned it. Even though many things are different in 2020, at least one thing remains the same- any SEC win is worth taking a day to celebrate.

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: zack@new-yhn.local or on Twitter @z_m_shaw