Auburn fends off feisty Southern Miss

Published 10:43 pm Saturday, September 29, 2018

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Bad weather made for a long day for the Auburn Tigers. Southern Miss did its best to make it feel even longer.

Jarrett Stidham threw for 245 yards and two touchdowns, and No. 10 Auburn finally subdued a stubborn Southern Miss team 24-13 on Saturday night in a game disrupted for nearly three hours by lightning.

Playing behind a shuffled offensive line, Stidham completed 19 of 33 passes, including touchdowns of 46 yards to Seth Williams and 2 yards to Chandler Cox, while enduring three sacks. Southern Miss held Auburn to its lowest yards per rush average (2.7) since Week 2 of last season.

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The Tigers (4-1) had built a 14-3 lead in the first half before the game was delayed for two hours, 44 minutes at the 4:27 mark of the second quarter as lightning forced players and fans to take shelter.

Williams finished with two receptions for 60 yards, including the freshman’s first career score. Darius Slayton led Auburn with five catches for 91 yards.

“The big thing is consistency,” said Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. “We did hit a couple big plays. We talked about the need for more explosive plays, but it’s just the overall consistency.”

Stidham was forced to work behind a shuffling offensive line. Freshman Nick Brahms made his second straight start at center only to be replaced by Kaleb Kim, who started the team’s first three games. Both of Auburn’s starting tackles were also helped to the locker room in the second half. Left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho was replaced by junior Bailey Sharp, and right tackle Jack Driscoll by freshman Calvin Ashley.

The Tigers’ ground game produced just 96 yards as Auburn failed to break the 100-yard mark in back-to-back games for the first time since 2012. JaTarvious Whitlow left the game with a shoulder injury before the delay and returned without pads. Junior Kam Martin led the Tigers with 90 yards on 24 carries.

“Anytime you can run the football, it really helps everything else,” Malzahn said. “We had trouble running tonight . it got ugly with our protection when they knew we were passing the football.”

Entering the game as the No. 8 passing offense in the nation, Southern Miss (2-2) relied heavily on sophomore quarterback Jack Abraham, who completed 30 of 44 passes for 215 yards, a score and two interceptions. Auburn limited the Golden Eagles to 45 yards on the ground. Former St. Aloysius star DeMichael Harris — a wide receiver — was Southern Miss’ leading rusher with 25 yards.

Southern Miss, however, never let Auburn run away with the lead. Parker Shaunfield kicked field goals of 44 yards in the first half and 51 yards in the third quarter.

Stidham’s 2-yard TD pass to Cox put Auburn ahead 21-6 with 5:39 left in the third, but Southern Miss got back within one score on Abraham’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Quez Watkins early in the fourth quarter.

Watkins finished with five receptions for 48 yards, and Jaylond Adams caught eight balls for 47 yards.

Southern Miss forced a turnover near midfield with 5:40 left in the game, but Abraham was intercepted by Christian Tutt three plays later. Auburn drove down for a 23-yard field goal by Anders Carlson with two minutes remaining to seal it.

“We gave ourselves a chance there in the fourth quarter to put ourselves in position to win. Didn’t capitalize on those opportunities,” Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson said. “We had a couple of other opportunities we would have loved to have had. But I did see a lot out of this football team. And as a football coach, you want to win every game, but when you see guys play hard and give the effort that our guys gave tonight, you’re certainly going to be proud of them.”