Editor's note: The story has been updated with post-game quotes.
Auburn finished its season in Jordan-Hare Stadium flawlessly in a 41-17 victory over Western Kentucky. 24 points in the second half went unanswered, and interim head coach Carnell William finishes 2-0 on the Plains this season.
“That was special. I didn't recognize it until after the game, but that's the way to go out in Jordan-Hare," said defensive lineman Colby Wooden. "To hold them to no points in the second half, that is crazy.”
When Jarquez Hunter tiptoed up the sideline for a 40-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, it gave Auburn its ninth rush of more than 10 yards of the game. Just three of them were in the first half.
Senior quarterback Trey Lindsey delivered the finishing touch on Senior Day, taking a knee to run out the clock in his first game appearance in college, but Hunter's trot was the nail in the coffin of Auburn's dominant second half, marking its first time since the opening two weeks of the season winning two straight games. Auburn improves to 5-6, setting up the Iron Bowl next Saturday to decide its postseason fate, in addition to yearly bragging rights.
Hunter's run was just one of 27 runs in the second half that gave Auburn 181 rushing yards in the half. It elevated the Tigers to a 17-point lead, but it had more work to do.
Four plays later, Oregon transfer D.J. James landed his first pick of the season after dropping one that hit him right in the hands in the second quarter, and he made it count. He took it 27 yards, diving head first into the end zone to finish off Auburn's 24-0 half to end its run in Jordan-Hare Stadium in 2022.
However, things didn't start out in Auburn's favor. It was a 17-17 game at halftime, and Auburn's punishing rushing attack from the previous two weeks seemed to disappear. Auburn was much more offensively balanced in the first half with 16 passes and 19 runs, but when it ran 27 to four times in the second half, it's duo of backs broke out.
Junior Tank Bigsby led the way with 110 yards and two scores in the game, but Hunter snuck behind him with 109 yards and one TD after the duo matched each other perfectly with 121 yards last week.
"One thing a good coach has to have is to know how to get the ball to their best players," Williams said. "Somehow, it's not about what system we run. I am a firm believer that you have to do what is best for your team. If that means us lining up and running the football different ways, then that is where we are at. The game of football is about confidence."
Despite Ashford's lackluster numbers, 8-for-19 for 102 yards and 37 rushing yards, one of Auburn's biggest scores of the night came through the air. Hunter took a pitch from Ashford and lobbed it 20 yards to Koy Moore to put Auburn up 17-3.
But the Hilltoppers continued to air it out, as they did all game. Austin Reed slung 54 darts and two of them went into the hands of Joshua Simon for scores in the second quarter.
The two teams went into the halftime tunnel knotted, and only three drives ended in punts. WKU had 222 passing yards, but the Auburn secondary stood up when it mattered most. Colby Wooden knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage on the first play of the game, and the Tiger secondary followed suit.
Reed was able to get comfortable in the pocket all night, as he wasn't sacked until late in the fourth quarter and was only hit once through three quarters. Nonetheless, Reed only completed 46% of his passes and threw two picks to Jaylin Simpson and James in addition to his pair of scoring plays. No WKU receiver surpassed 100 yards, although Malachi Corley was targeted 18 times and caught 12 passes for 99 yards.
For the third time this season and second under Williams, Auburn won the turnover battle, 2-0. In addition to getting a pair of interceptions, Auburn had 10 pass breakups, led by three from Simpson and two from Nehemiah Pritchett.
The Hilltoppers' air raid wasn't anything new, and it might not be the last time Auburn sees a fast-paced offense this season. The Tigers now prepare to head to Tuscaloosa and face No. 8 Alabama, and under a "fired up" Williams, Auburn is as hot as ever this season. The team spirit is at an all-time high, as displayed by senior edge and team captain Derick Hall.
“My time here has been nothing short of amazing," Hall said. "Auburn is a very special place. I came here as a 17-year-old boy, and I'm leaving as a 22-year-old man. Auburn has done a lot for me and I'll forever be indebted to this place. I'll be forever indebted to the people here, but I know one thing about Auburn. They say if you love Auburn, then Auburn will love you back.”
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Noah is a senior in journalism from Salem, Alabama. He joined the Plainsman in August of 2021 after transferring in from Southern Union Community College.