BIRMINGHAM, AL (WSFA) - The Auburn Tigers defeated the Memphis Tigers 31-10 Wednesday in the 10th Birmingham Bowl at historic Legion Field.
Sean White returned to the starting quarterback position after missing the last four games due to injury to his knee and foot. However, it was the Auburn defense that dominated the game, even without a defensive coordinator.
Auburn received the ball first and easily drove deep into Memphis territory. However, the drive stalled at the Memphis three-yard-line. Auburn settled for a 20-yard field goal by Daniel Carlson to give them a 3-0 lead early in the first.
After forcing Memphis to a quick punt, Auburn regained possession on their 30-yard-line. Led by running backs Jovon Robinson and Kerryon Johnson, Auburn drove to the Memphis eight-yard-line. On the tenth play of the drive, Kerryon Johnson broke for an eight-yard touchdown run to extended Auburn's lead to ten.
Early in the second quarter, Memphis began to take some of the momentum away from Auburn. With Auburn in Memphis territory, Memphis' Reggis Ball intercepted a pass by Jason Smith on a trick play. Memphis converted on the turnover with a 53-yard field goal by Jake Elliott.
Memphis regained possession and drove deep into Auburn territory. Elliott lined up for another field goal at the Auburn 15-yard line, but the kick was blocked by Blake Countess.
On the ensuing drive, Memphis' Reggie Ball picked off Sean White and returned the interception for a touchdown to tie the game at 10.
White threw another interception on the next drive, but the defense held strong, forcing a three-and-out.
Auburn and Memphis went into halftime tied at ten.
At the beginning of the second half, the Memphis offense seemed rejuvenated, driving to the Auburn six-yard-line. However, quarterback Paxton Lynch threw an interception to Auburn's Tray Matthews in the endzone.
Late in third quarter, Auburn capped an eight-play drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Jeremy Johnson to Jason Smith. With the score, Auburn regained the lead 17-10.
As a result of the touchdown, Sean White and Jeremy Johnson began to split time much more evenly throughout the rest of the game.
After forcing Memphis to a three-and-out, Auburn again drove into Memphis territory. Jeremy Johnson capped the 76-yard drive with a powerful 5-yard run for a touchdown to extend the lead by 14.
Auburn's defense again forced a three-and-out from Memphis, bringing on the punt team. Auburn returner Marcus Davis sprang free on the punt, reaching the six-yard line.
Two plays later, running back Jovon Robinson scored a four-yard touchdown to bring the score to 31-10 still early in fourth quarter.
On the ensuing drive, Memphis drove to the Auburn 16-yard line. However, the Auburn defense again held strong in the red zone forcing a turnover on downs.
Auburn run game was able to bleed the clock, sealing their 31-10 victory over Memphis. It is Auburn's first bowl win since the 2011 Chik-Fil-A Bowl against Virginia and the first bowl win under head coach Gus Malzahn.
There were a lot of positives in this game for Auburn after a disappointing 6-6 regular season.
The Auburn defense, which was the main weakness for the Tigers all year, held the Memphis offense to only 206 total yards and no touchdowns for the first time this season. Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch, who is projected to be one of the first quarterbacks taken in the NFL Draft, threw for only 104 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception.
Offensively, Gus Malzahn will likely have quarterback competition going into the 2016 season.
Sean White in the starting position did not have a particularly strong game, completing 8 of his 14 passes for 103 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. Jeremy Johnson threw only one pass for an eleven-yard touchdown. Johnson also picked 26 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Jovon Robinson had a break out game against Memphis. Robinson picked up 121 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.
Gus Malzahn announced shortly after the game Auburn hired Kevin Steele as the Tigers' defensive coordinator. Steele was previously the defensive coordinator at LSU. He will replace Will Muschamp who left Auburn after one season to become South Carolina's head coach.
Auburn finishes their season with a 7-6 record, avoiding their first losing season in Gus Malzahn's tenure.
The Tigers will return several key players in 2016 including both quarterbacks Sean White and Jeremy Johnson, running backs Roc Thomas, Peyton Barber, and Jovon Robinson, and defensive back Johnathan Ford.