AUBURN, Ala. -- Quarterback Jarrett Stidham played easily his best game as an Auburn Tiger. Kamryn Pettway rushed for three touchdowns. But it was the Auburn defense that stood out once again and forced a key three-and-out in the fourth quarter that helped propel the Tigers past Mercer, 24-10, on Saturday.
Mercer had cut the lead to seven and had a chance to tie the game with a touchdown, but the defense was having none of it. On first down, Byron Cowart and Big Kat Bryant stopped the running back for a loss of three. After an incomplete pass on second down, Derrick Brown got pressure on the quarterback and knocked the pass down on third down. And backed up deep in their own territory, the Bears were forced to punt.
"I felt like that was a very big drive for us," Brown said. "Every single drive is big for us, but getting off the field three-and-out, that's a big deal."
When Auburn got the ball back, the offense marched down the field and put the game out of reach with a four-yard touchdown run from Pettway. It was Pettway's third touchdown on the day and second out of the Wildcat position. He finished with 128 yards on the ground and also caught three passes for 32 yards.
It was a signature day for Stidham, too, who went 32 of 37 through the air for 367 yards and connected with nine different receivers.
Auburn outgained Mercer, 510 to 246, but five turnovers by Auburn -- four fumbles and one interception -- allowed the Bears to hang around into the fourth quarter.
"I feel like we moved the football and did some good things," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said after the game. "I don't remember the last time we had a quarterback [go] 32 for 37. That's a positive sign. But the underlying thing that's really carrying with me is the five turnovers.
"I'm the head coach. We have to solve that. It starts with me. I have to solve that. We're going to get hard on that. It is uncharacteristic, but if you put that aside, there are some good things that you can carry on to conference play."
Defensively, Jeremiah Dinson and Tre' Williams led Auburn with six tackles apiece, and thanks to seven tackles for loss, the Tigers held Mercer to 3.7 yards per play. Freshman Traivon Leonard made the game-clinching stop on fourth down with less than two minutes remaining.
Fellow freshmen Noah Igbinoghene and Devan Barrett also made contributions on offense. Igbinoghene caught three passes for 24 yards, and Barrett added three grabs for 17 yards. In all, 11 freshmen participated for the Tigers on Saturday.
Next week, Auburn travels to Missouri for its first SEC contest of the season.