Sean White got Auburn off to a fast start against Kentucky
By Charles Goldberg
LEXINGTON, Ky. ― Gus Malzahn renewed his faith in quarterback Sean White before the game, then turned the redshirt freshman loose on Kentucky.
The Auburn coach found the right mix of a maturing quarterback, an aggressive game plan and a defense that came up big in the final minute to help the Tigers win 30-27 Thursday night in Commonwealth Stadium.
Malzahn, who announced White as his starter an hour before the game, completed 17 of 27 passes for a career-best 255 yards in his third-ever college game. White didn't throw a touchdown pass, but his seven completions to Ricardo Louis, which included five catches in the first quarter, set the tone.
White threw 10 passes in the first quarter, eight in the second, five in the third and four in the fourth. But one of the late ones was a 34-yard completion to Louis to set up Auburn's final, and decisive, touchdown.
"We wanted to be more aggressive. We're starting to settle in. We're starting to get some rhythm," Malzahn said. "We wanted to come out and have an aggressive mindset. He did a good job making some plays through the air. The big thing was third downs in the first half, keeping drives alive. We had a stale third quarter, but then we had the big drive at the very end for the touchdown.
"We had some explosive plays, really for the first time all year. We actually got into a rhythm. We were very good on third downs in the first half.
"We got into a rhythm probably for the first time all year that looked like an Auburn offense. That's encouraging moving forward."
The game story
Auburn finished with 407 yards. Kentucky had 497. But, with the game on the line with less than a minute to play, and with the Wildcats past midfield, Auburn forced an incomplete pass on third down and Justin Garrett sacked Patrick Towles on fourth down.
Ball game…with 25 seconds remaining.
Malzahn said the defense "won the game for us on that last drive."
Auburn improved to 4-2 overall and 1-2 in the Southeastern Conference. Kentucky fell to 4-2 overall and 2-2 in the league.
"All three phases helped us win this game. We probably played our best overall game of the year," Malzahn said.
White was bound to grab the headlines, but Malzahn said the defense came through when it mattered.
"We put the pressure on the defense, and they came up big with that stop at the very end and helped us win the game."
Auburn could have tried a different tact. The Tigers had fourth down and one at its own 47 with just over two minutes to play. Malzahn didn't go for it. He leaned on his defense.
"You can pin them back and make them drive the field and have your defense come up big," he said. "There was a little bit of a discussion about that. I thought about it… We punted, and put the pressure on our defense and our defense responded."
Auburn will try to win its second straight road game a week from Saturday at Arkansas. Malzahn said Thursday's game "gives us momentum. We're going in the right direction. That's the positive message."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine