Auburn’s first visit to the state of Missouri was welcomed with a return to normality.
In No. 15 Auburn’s 51-14 win over Missouri Saturday night, Kerryon Johnson scored a Week 4 FBS-best five rushing touchdowns but ran for just 48 yards. Johnson, who returned from an injury suffered in Week 1, fell one touchdown short of Carnell “Cadillac” Williams for Auburn’s single-game record of six.
“Our goal was to run for over 200 yards, we were able to do that,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said.
Auburn running back Kam Martin had a game-high 74 rushing yards on nine carries. Like Johnson, it was his first game since the season-opening win over Georgia Southern. Malzahn said starting running back Kamryn Pettway wasn’t 100 percent after suffering an injury last week, allowing Martin to return to the field.
Quarterback Jarrett Stidham once again impressed with accuracy, connecting on Auburn’s longest passing play this season with a 58-yard toss to Kyle Davis on the game’s first play. Stidham went 13-for-17 for 218 yards and one touchdown.
""He’s getting better every time out,” Malzahn said. “He also made some plays with his legs early when things broke down. I just thought he had a very good game and you can just see him getting more and more comfortable with the offense.”
Stidham’s offensive line, which allowed 25 tackles for loss in the previous three games, did not allow a sack until late in the fourth quarter.
In the last two games, Stidham has completed 83.3 percent of his passes (45-for-54) while scoring just one touchdown. Auburn’s opening drive, which culminated in Johnson’s first rushing touchdown, was its first opening-drive of the season. On defense, Auburn hasn’t allowed a first-quarter touchdown in the last nine games.
“Defensively, I thought we did outstanding again,” Malzahn said. “They have an explosive offense.”
Auburn shot first with an 80-yard, six-play drive to start the game. Following Johnson’s opening touchdown, junior defensive back Carlton Davis intercepted Missouri quarterback Drew Lock for Davis’ first since his freshman season. Johnson would score on another short-yardage touchdown, Auburn driving away with an early 14-0 lead.
“Missouri was very dangerous,” Malzahn said. “They had nine starters back. We knew we would get their best shot. Getting of to that big lead was a big thing.”
Auburn’s first possession of the second quarter was much of the same as Stidham connected on a 48-yard pass to Will Hastings to set up another Johnson touchdown from one yard out. Martin’s first carry of the night went for 15 yards to give Auburn their third first-and-goal.
“[Johnson] was back and did some good things, but the other thing we learned is Malik Miller and Kam Martin and Devan Barrett can step in there and do an admirable job,” running backs coach Tim Horton said. “That’s going to help us a lot in the long run.””
Later in the quarter, defensive end Marlon Davidson returned a controversial fumble from midfield down to Missouri’s 20-yard line. Every player on the field on the field had frozen -- Davidson himself was walking off the field -- and before Missouri could prepare their punting unit, Auburn was in the red zone.
Johnson later scored for his fourth rushing touchdown, becoming the first Auburn player since Peyton Barber in 2015 with four rushing touchdowns in a half.
“I was very proud of Kerryon Johnson,” Malzahn said. “He wasn’t 100 percent but he did a super job, and our offensive line did a great job.”
Scoring became routine for Auburn as they continued to have success with deep-ball throws. Missouri scored their first touchdown late in the second quarter, but would not score again until the fourth quarter.
"[Deep throws] makes all the difference in the world," Malzahn said. "That allows you to call your own offense.”
Daniel Carlson went 3-for-3 with two from beyond 50 yards, his longest a 54-yard field goal that extended Auburn across the half-century scoring mark. Carlson, who has missed three field goals at home, has not missed a field goal on the road this season.
After comments concerning Carlson’s confidence diminishing over the course of the first three week, Malzahn now believes “he’s back.”
Freshman Malik Willis burned his redshirt eligibility toward the end of the third quarter, rushing for 12 yards and a first down on his first career snap. Stidham would admit that his backup “performed really well” as Willis went 3-for-4 for just a single yard with a touchdown pass that was called back on a penalty.
“It was good to get Malik some experience,” Malzahn said. “He’s going to play from here on out.”
Auburn had 263 rushing yards in the convincing win. The Tigers had rushed for just 535 total in the previous three contest. Its five total rushing touchdowns Saturday night was just one shy of Auburn’s previous season total, and, in turn, helped mark Auburn’s largest road victory since 2003.
“We needed a game like this,” Malzahn said. “I’m glad that our offense started to click.”