The Auburn offense had a lot of questions to answer after failing to score a touchdown in a 14-6 loss to Clemson last week. A homecoming matchup with FCS school Mercer was supposed to be an easy opportunity to get back on track, but three first-half turnovers forced the Tigers into an unexpected battle.
A sloppy 24-10 win left Auburn with far more questions than answers as they head into SEC play.
Jarrett Stidham was 32-for-37 with 364 yards and the Tigers outgained Mercer 510-246, but five Auburn turnovers kept the Bears in the game.
“We got the victory today. Obviously, it was a little sloppy. What stands out to me is the five turnovers. It was very uncharacteristic. I can’t remember the last time we had five turnovers,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said.
While Stidham had his best game of the season, the rushing attack struggled. Pettway finished with 128 yards on the night but the team averaged just 3.4 yards per carry.
“We’ve got to run the football better,” Malzahn said. “You look at it and it’s 43 rushes and 146 yards. We’ve got to run the football better. So we’ve got to solve that one.”
The Mercer defense gave Stidham all day to throw, and he had little trouble moving the ball through the air. The offense surpassed last week’s yardage total in the first quarter and finally found the end zone on a Kamryn Pettway four-yard touchdown run with 1:03 remaining in the opening period.
It was not a good day for the Auburn wide receivers, who struggled to gain separation and turned the ball over three times on fumbles. Eli Stove’s second quarter fumble gave Mercer good field position and the ensuing 21-yard field goal made it 7-3 with five minutes remaining in the first half.
A red zone fumble by Kamryn Pettway kept it a one possession game late in the first half before Daniel Carlson made a 29-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 10-3 halftime lead.
The second half began with more of the same as Ryan Davis fumbled a punt return for Auburn’s fourth turnover of the afternoon. Mercer attempted a fake field goal on the ensuing possession, but the Auburn defense came up with another stop.
Auburn broke out the wildcat in the second half, and Kamryn Pettway’s second touchdown run made it 17-3 midway through the third quarter and finally gave Auburn some breathing room. Just when it looked like Auburn would break the game open late in the third quarter, Jarrett Stidham threw an interception deep in Mercer territory and brought the Bears back to life.
Mercer subsequently answered any questions about how they would handle the moment with a 12 play, 83-yard touchdown drive to pull within a touchdown with 13 minutes remaining.
After Daniel Carlson hooked a 26-yard field goal wide left, Auburn needed the defense to bail them out again. The defense responded again, forcing a three and out before Kamryn Pettway sealed the win with his third touchdown run.
At the end of the day, a win is a win, but it’s no secret that the Tigers will need to improve as they begin SEC play at Missouri next week.
“We executed the game plan. We moved the ball really well,” Stidham said. “It just kind of puts a damper on things whenever you turn the ball over five times. We just need to get better from it.”