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A spirit that is not afraid

Auburn's positive takeaways from the 2022 Iron Bowl

<p>Auburn quarterback Robby Ashford (9) celebrates with teammates after scoring a rushing touchdown in the first half against the Alabama Crimson Tide in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Nov. 26, 2022.</p>

Auburn quarterback Robby Ashford (9) celebrates with teammates after scoring a rushing touchdown in the first half against the Alabama Crimson Tide in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Nov. 26, 2022.

Under interim head coach Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, every effort from Auburn has been a valiant one. Saturday night was no different for the Tigers.

Auburn fell to Alabama by 22 points to Alabama, but the Iron Bowl featured plenty of impressive moments for the Tigers that they can be proud of.

Firstly, Auburn ran for 318 yards in the loss. The yard mark was Auburn’s season high — surpassing its previous  high of 301 yards rushing against Ole Miss. Not only was Auburn’s rushing mark its highest of the season, but it also set a new season high in yards per carry. Auburn ran for 7.4 yards per carry, which was the first time the Tigers carried the ball over seven yards per attempt since Auburn’s first game of the season against Mercer.

Quarterback Robby Ashford, an Alabama native, was a large part of that successful rushing attack. The redshirt freshman ran for a career-high 121 yards on 17 carries. 

Ashford also accomplished a feat that no other Auburn rusher had done in nearly 20 years. He ran for two touchdowns in the Iron Bowl — becoming the first Tiger to do so since his head coach, Williams, did it in the 2003 Iron Bowl.

“Robby man, he played his heart out,” said Owen Pappoe. “This is a fight that he displayed throughout the whole game. It was great to see. He let us know he was gonna do that. I’m proud of him for that.”

Sophomore running back Jarquez Hunter also had a huge game — rushing for 134 yards on 12.2 yards per carry. With both Hunter and Ashford surpassing 100 yards, it meant Auburn had two players record 100 yards rushing or more in three consecutive games for the first time in program history. Hunter and Tank Bigsby both ran for over 100 yards against Texas A&M and Western Kentucky.

Williams became emotional talking about Hunter after the game.

"I pray to God that my two boys get his type of attitude, his work ethic,” Williams said. “That young man is special. And I'm not just talking about on the field — by the way he treats people and the way he goes about his business."

Bigsby ran for 63 yards to bring his season total to 970. In potentially his final game at Auburn, Bigsby passed Brent Fullwood and Stephen Davis to jump to seventh all-time in career rushing yards at Auburn with 2,821.

The running performance from that trio looks even more impressive considering the defense they faced. Alabama entered the game ranked No. 14 in the country in opponent rushing yards per game as the Crimson Tide had not surrendered more than 200 yards rushing this year, yet Auburn found incredible success against the stout defense.

It was a complete flip from last year’s Iron Bowl, where the Tigers only recorded 22 yards rushing. In fact, Auburn doubled its total yard mark from last year’s Iron Bowl (159) with its rushing yards in this year's matchup (318).

Even in the 2013 Iron Bowl where Auburn matched up against Alabama as an offense that leaned heavily on its run, Auburn did not amass as many yards as they did Saturday, with 296 in that game nearly a decade ago.

Auburn also had a couple highs on defense, even though it allowed 49 points.

Owen Pappoe, who also may have played his final game at Auburn unless the five-win Tigers are selected to fill a vacant bowl spot, intercepted Alabama quarterback Bryce Young. It was his first pick since 2020 when Pappoe recorded an interception against South Carolina.

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The senior from Georgia also got back to his old ways tackling, accounting for 10 to his season total of 91 tackles. It was his second double-digit tackling performance of the season (16 versus Ole Miss) and seventh of his career.

Cam Riley also recorded double digit tackles with a team-high 12. Riley had largely seen his snap count diminish as the season prolonged, but once Williams took over as head coach, Riley consistently began playing more snaps again. Riley’s 12 tackles were the second most he recorded this season.

Though the game ended in defeat and the season with failed expectations, Auburn held its head high with lots of pride and had its program supported by its interim head coach as the season came to a close.

Jacob Waters | Sports Reporter

Jacob is a sophomore from Leeds, Alabama. This is his second year with The Auburn Plainsman. 

Twitter: @JacobWaters_

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