Auburn defense shuts down Memphis, Lynch in Birmingham Bowl win


The Auburn Tigers (7-6) took care of business in the Birmingham Bowl as they beat Memphis (9-4) convincingly 31-10 to finish the season on a high note.

Sean White got the start at quarterback for Auburn, but he threw two interceptions in the first half and played sparingly in the second half. Jeremy Johnson got the majority of the work in the second half and finished the game with a passing and a rushing touchdown.

The story of the game was the Auburn defense, which held Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch to just 104 yards passing on 38 attempts. They also picked off a pass in the end zone – just his fourth interception of the year.

The Auburn Tigers finished the game with more rushing yards (254), than Memphis had total yards (206). This was by far the best game the defense played all season, and a lot of the credit has to go to interim defensive coordinator Lance Thompson.

Jovon Robinson led the way on the ground for Auburn as he picked up 121 yards rushing on 25 carries, and he also reached the end zone once.

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Auburn got the ball to start the game and was having success running the ball until they got stuck at the Memphis 40 yard line. On fourth down Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn drew up a beautiful fake punt that went for 37 yards, giving the Tigers the ball inside the 5 yard line. The offense failed to push it into the end zone though, and Daniel Carlson gave Auburn the lead with a 20 yard field goal.

The Auburn defense came out inspired as they sacked Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch for a 6 yard loss, forcing them to punt the ball back to Auburn.

On Auburn’s next offensive possession they continued to move the ball on the ground. From the 8 yard line White handed the ball off to Kerryon Johnson who used a spin move and broke a few tackles to force his way into the end zone, giving Auburn a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

In the second quarter Memphis went for it on fourth and short around the 50 yard line, but the Auburn defense held. However, on the next play Gus drew up a trick play and Jason Smith threw an interception giving the ball right back to Memphis.

A hands to the face penalty on Auburn gave Memphis the ball on the 32 yard line, but the defense held again. Jake Elliott came on for Memphis and drilled a 53 yard field goal to make the score 10-3 midway through the second quarter.

Another Auburn penalty put Memphis in field goal range again, but Blake Countess blocked Elliott’s field goal attempt and kept the score at 10-3.

On Auburn’s next possession they moved the ball well on the ground, but stalled at midfield. Then Gus tried to go for it on fourth and two, but White was pressured in the backfield and threw the ball right to the Memphis linebacker who took it all the way to the end zone to tie the game up at 10.

White wasn’t finished throwing interceptions just yet as he threw another one on Auburn’s next drive to give the ball right back to Memphis. The defense held Memphis to a three-and-out though, and the first half ended in a 10-10 tie.

Auburn held the edge in total yards at the half 197 to 92, but three costly interceptions allowed Memphis to stay in the game. Auburn ran the ball for 132 yards in the first half with Robinson leading the way with 64 yards on 12 carries. The Auburn defense held Memphis quarterback Paxton Lync to just 57 yards passing on 19 attempts in the first half.

The Memphis Tigers got the ball to start the second half and moved the ball down the field with ease, but the Auburn defense came up big again as they intercepted a Lynch pass that was tipped by Carlton Davis.

With under four minutes left in the third quarter Auburn went back on top after an 11 yard pass by Jeremy Johnson to Jason Smith. Johnson swung the ball out to Smith around the 10 yard line and he picked up a good block that allowed him to get into the end zone.

The offense scored again on its next drive. This time Jeremy Johnson took it on the ground from 5 yards out to give Auburn a 24-10 lead.

The defense continued to give Lynch fits as they picked up another big sack that forced Memphis to punt. Marcus Davis took that punt back 56 yards giving Auburn the ball inside the 10 yard line. From there Robinson was carried into the end zone by the offensive line for the touchdown making it 31-10.

On Memphis’ next drive they moved the ball all the way down inside the redzone, but the defense held on a fourth and 16 attempt to keep them off the board. Then Auburn went back to work on the ground and was able to run out the clock and seal the victory.

This was a game that Auburn and Gus Malzahn had to win, and they did. Despite some shaky play-calling and three interceptions in the first half, Auburn played one of their best games of the season.