No. 15 Auburn overcomes turnovers to beat Mercer
Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham had one of the most efficient games in SEC history, and Kamryn Pettway rushed for three touchdowns, but the No. 15 Tigers were unable to put away FSC opponent Mercer until late in the fourth quarter.
Auburn won 24-10 on homecoming Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.
Stidham completed 32 of 37 passes for 364 yards but with no touchdowns and one interception. His 86.5 completion percentage is the second best in a single game in SEC history, with a minimum of 30 attempts.
Pettway finished with 128 yards on 34 carries, with touchdown runs of 9, 4 and 4 yards, and Auburn racked up 515 total yards, but managed just 24 points against an inferior opponent.
Five Auburn turnovers -- including four fumbles -- kept underdog Mercer in the game. With nine minutes to play, the visiting Tigers trailed by only seven and had the ball.
“If you take the turnovers away, I think we’d be feeling really good,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “Our defense played well again. I think we’re doing a super job at that end.”
Mercer quarterback Kaelan Riley threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Irvin to cut the Auburn lead to 17-10 early in the fourth quarter.
Auburn marched down the field on its ensuing drive but was thwarted by penalties, and Daniel Carlson missed a 26-yard field goal attempt, giving the ball back to Mercer with 8:50 to play.
Auburn’s defense stiffened, though, and Pettway capped a game-sealing drive with a tackle-breaking, 4-yard touchdown run on a direct snap that pushed the lead to 24-10 with 4:50 left.
“I cannot say enough about our team and the effort they gave,” Mercer coach Bob Lamb said.
”Our defense just played lights out. I cannot say enough about our defense and the effort they gave. They were flying around the ball making plays, and they forced five turnovers.
“It wasn’t easy for Auburn to score when they did score. Auburn never dreamed that their tailback would come in and have to carry the ball 30-something times, but that’s the way our defense plays. They fly around. It’s like that in practice. It is a hard yard to gain against our defense.”
Auburn went into halftime with just a 10-7 lead. Pettway scored on a 4-yard touchdown run, and Carlson kicked a 29-yard field goal for the Tigers in the first half.
Auburn lost three fumbles in the first half, the first by running back Eli Stone coming deep in its own territory and resulting in a 21-yard field goal by Mercer’s Cole Fisher. Pettway coughed up another fumble at the Mercer 7-yard line to end another Auburn threat.
Stidham completed 18 of his first 20 throws, but failed to produce big plays down the field.
“Obviously, we wanted to put up more than 24 points on the board tonight. We moved the ball really, really well,” Stidham said. “Like I said, we executed the game plan. We just have to not turn the ball over and put it in the end zone. That’s really it.”
Riley completed 20 of 32 passes for 146 yards with a touchdown for Mercer, which dropped its second straight game.
“We learned an awful lot. We had a great week of practice,” Lamb said.
“In and out with the hurricane, no power here and no power there, but they were resilient. You just don’t know how they are going to react in a 90,000-seat stadium for the first time against an SEC team ranked 15 in the country with an unbelievable defense. I can’t say enough about our coaches coming up with a really good game plan to stay within the chains and to really get after it on the defensive side.”
Auburn was coming off a 14-6 loss at Clemson and was hoping to build some confidence on offense. But it didn’t happen. Now, the Tigers head into SEC play next week at Missouri.
“I feel like we have confidence,” Pettway said. “We made a lot of mistakes that are fixable. We had five turnovers, but it’s nothing we can’t fix.”
NOTES: Auburn senior OT Darius James had to be strapped down on a backboard and carted off the field after suffering an injury in the second quarter. James was taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons, but television reports indicated he had movement in all his extremities. ... Mercer was playing its first FBS ranked opponent since reinstating its program in 2013. Mercer also will play at Alabama on Nov. 18. ... Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson sat out his second straight game because of a hamstring injury.