In a game of miscues and hiccups, Auburn pulled out a victory over FCS opponent Mercer 24 -10. The game started with Auburn moving the ball with ease a turnover at the mercer 25 derailed the drive. It was good they got the turnover, but the goal is to make them pay the ultimate price. Unfortunately, Mercer could only go three and out. Their second drive started at their 13-yard line exactly where you don’t prefer to be when you are going up against a Division I opponent from the SEC. Give them credit they punched it out of the pressure cooker and moved down to the Auburn 49 yard line.
For Auburn, the third possession was the charm they started to display their SEC superior talent providing QB Jarrett Stidham with camping time in the pocket he had all day on a sideline pass to Devan Barrett for 9 yards followed by a 5-yard pass to Sal Cannella. The killer was a 27-yard pass to Will Hastings the defensive backs for Mercer did an excellent job in coverage, but when Goliath better known as the Auburn front line stood their ground there was no penetration. The Mercer defensive line looked as if though they were playing in quicksand, churning but going nowhere. Kamryn Pettway busted up the middle for a 4-yard touchdown. That run capped off a 10 play 85-yard drive. You could tell the tone of the game was about to change. Or it at least appeared that way. But each time it did Auburn would do something that backfired.
Surprisingly at the 11:09 mark of the second quarter the score was 7-0. There was an odd hora for a historical SEC Powerhouse struggling with an FCS opponent. Let’s give credit where it’s due the Bears defense allowed a total of 96 yards to this point in the game. Kam Pettay On the toughness of the Mercer defense… “Yeah, I was (surprised about how tough Mercer was). They were a good team out there, so they came to fight and we had to fight back.”
Head Coach Gus Malzhan realized he needed a change of pace so they went to the hurry up or no huddle it was effective until there was a ruling on the field “it was a caught pass and a fumble recovery” by Mercer at the Auburn 27 yard line. They followed that with an interference call going down the far sideline gifting the Bears 15 yards down to the 12-yard line. They progressed to the 4-yard line before the door was shut resulting in a successful field goal at the 5:09 mark of the second quarter the score was 7-3 in favor of the hometown Tigers.
The Tigers came back with a strike to Ryan Davis for 38 yards then an immediate hurry up signaled it was just a matter of time. The strategy was to wear down the Mercer defensive line and open up the offensive opportunities. The plan was working well until another fumble in the red zone. Mercer took possession at their 9-yard line to dodge another bullet. The result was another three and out most importantly they added time to their lives. It was like a boxer stepping back to avoid a roundhouse punch.
Auburn was determined to go into halftime with momentum Jarrett Stidham hit Kamryn Pettway on a little out pass he put a stutter step on the defender and left him looking for his jock and stepped out of bounds before he was hit late by LaMakus Bailey advancing 15 more yards. Finally the Mercer defense got pressure on Stidham forcing him to run to the sideline where his helmet was knocked off as he skid out of bounds. The drive ended with a successful field goal by Daniel Carlson giving them a seven-point advantage with 37 seconds in the half. They went into the locker room 10-3.
My summation of the first half: Auburn was flirting with fire. They had 279 total yards to Mercer 97, but only seven points separated them. Adding intrigue to the possibility of an upset Mercer started the second half with the ball the Auburn defense forced the turnover on downs. The offense gave it back on yet another turnover, but the Bears couldn’t get into the end zone. They lined up for a field goal. Instead, it was a fake why not they had nothing to lose and was in scoring position. I applaud head coach Bobby Lamb for being creative and playing to win. It at least made it interesting he was going all out to upset the big boys.
On defensive play…
“We have plastered all over our building, “The Ball Is The Issue.” We strive on takeaways. Those balls were ripped out. We try to practice stripping the ball. Then on offense we really protected the ball well. Overall it was just one of those games that you could just feel on the sidelines that everyone was engaged, even the players that weren’t playing a lot, they were engaged in the game. I made a comment in the huddle and the players laughed a little bit. We were in a timeout situation and it was 17-10. I said, “Guys I told y’all right now on ESPN they have: Upset Alert, Mercer Bears. I can tell you that right now we have an opportunity,” and they started laughing but you have to keep them loose in a game like this. People certainly found out a little about Mercer football on a national stage today.” Said Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb
Auburn marched down the field and decided they too could get a little creative running the Wildcat, in this case, it should be called the Wild Tiger. It was a direct snap to Kamyrn Pettway who went around right end out of the I formation for a 9-yard touchdown. The drive lasted 10 plays and covered 78 yards. Score 17-3 Auburn. Mercer could only muster a three and out. The Auburn defense seemed to turn it on when they wanted to and dominate. They just didn’t play consistently on offense. Turnovers were killing them. Again they moved down inside the red zone, and disaster struck in the form an interception by Kam Lott giving Mercer possession at their 17-yard line. At this point in the game Mercer had the ball for 26:16 and Auburn 18:44 yet they were trailing by fourteen points.
Mercer moved down to the Auburn 7 yard line. Marquise Irvin caught a speeding bullet across the middle for Mercers’ first touchdown of the game. The scoring drive lasted 12 plays for 83 yards and took 6:07 off the clock. Auburn 17-Mercer 10. Auburn put up one more score late in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. This was the type of game that drives a coach crazy five turnovers three in the red zone as you are going into score allowing the opponent to stay within striking distance. Surely Coach Malzhan couldn’t wait for this one to end as good as they were good they were bad shooting themselves in the foot but never feeling the pain because they pulled this game out. Against a SEC opponent, this story would have had a different ending.
Malzhan said, “We got the victory today. Obviously, it was really sloppy. What stands out to me the most is the five turnovers, which is very uncharacteristic. I can’t remember the last time we had five turnovers. We had a critical penalty down there in the red zone. If you take the turnovers away, I think we’d be feeling really good. Our defense played well again. I think we’re doing a super job at that end. Jarrett Stidham finished the game completing 32 out of 37 passes for 364 yards and 1 interception. With a completion percentage of 86.5%, Stidham had the second-best single-game completion percentage in SEC history with a minimum of 30 completions (record: 88.6%, Tim Tebow, 31-of-35 vs. Cincinnati, 2009).
LeMarkus Bailey the Mercer OLB played one helluva game making 10 solo tackles and 1 assist.
Kamryn Pettway lead the ground attack rushing 34 times gaining 128 yards and scored his first three rushing touchdowns of the season and now has 10 for his career. Malzhan continued,“I feel like we moved the football and did some good things. I don’t remember the last time we had a quarterback go out there and throw 32-37, but that’s a positive sign. The underlying thing that’s really carrying on with me is the five turnovers. I’m the head coach and we have to solve that. It starts with me; I have to solve that. We’re going to get hard on that. It’s uncharacteristic, but if you put that aside, there’s some good things that you can carry on to conference play.”
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