Rapid Reaction: Bo Nix, Auburn strong late in victory over Kentucky
Auburn QB Bo Nix followed off his Freshman of the Year campaign from 2019 by answering the bell on Saturday in the Tigers’ 29-13 win over Kentucky to open the season and avoid what looked like a potential upset for a good portion of the game. Nix, who passed for well over 200 yards, including a trio of scoring passes, mostly notably a gorgeous quarter touchdown to Seth Williams, led the Tigers to victory at Jordan-Hare Stadium with his passing, rushing and even punting skills. Yes, Nix was one of Auburn’s most efficient rushers and hit a couple of coffin-corner punts as well.
After one of those punts, Kentucky scored on its opening possession as sophomore RB Kavosiey Smoke ran 35 yards to finish a 93-yard drive. Auburn quickly answered with a 70-yard march, in which the Tigers got on the scoreboard with a 1-yard scoring run by D.J. Williams with 4:30 to go in the first quarter. Then Auburn caught Kentucky unaware, lining up in the “swinging gate” formation and completing a 2-point play from Grant Loy to tight end John Samuel Shenker. That 8-7 advantage gave the Tigers the lead for good.
Near the end of the half, one of the most bizarre sequences imaginable left both teams angry heading to the locker room. Kentucky RB Chris Rodriguez churned near the end zone, but was ruled short. Televised replays appeared to indicate that Rodriguez reached the end zone, but after review the call stood. On 3rd down, UK quarterback Terry Wilson fired an interception to Auburn DB Roger McCreary, who returned it for an apparent touchdown. During a review as to whether McCreary stepped out of bounds (he did not), Auburn defensive end Derick Hall was called for targeting behind the play, negating the apparent Auburn touchdown. And so the score remained 8-7 at halftime.
The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, Auburn’s coming on a 16-yard strike from Nix to Seth Williams. Then Kentucky rallied with an 8-yard scoring pass from Wilson to Akeem Hayes. Kentucky went for two following its score, but Wilson threw the ball away, and Auburn’s scoring advantage was preserved at 15-13.
Kentucky forced a stop to open the fourth quarter, but on a 3rd down play, Wilson fumbled. Auburn’s Jamien Sherwood recovered, leading to Nix hitting Williams for the scoring pass that all but sealed the victory. Williams had over 100 receiving yards by the beginning of the fourth quarter, including his two touchdown grabs. Later in the fourth quarter, Kentucky punter Max Duffy was stopped on a fake punt, and Auburn cashed in a two-play scoring drive capped by Nix’s 21-yard pass to Eli Stove.
Kentucky’s ground game was solid, as they led Auburn in rushing yardage throughout the game, but Wilson looked fairly rusty, with two turnovers and a few other questionable decisions that helped squander some early UK momentum. Kentucky held the ball for 21:02 of the first half but managed only seven points.
Auburn picked up an opening win that is pivotal to its hopes of hanging in the SEC West race, particularly with a matchup with Georgia looming next weekend. Kentucky suffers a season-opening loss which will likely drop the Wildcats out of the AP poll ahead of next week’s home game against Ole Miss.