Observations: Auburn 41, Western Kentucky 17
For the third straight week under Cadillac Williams, Auburn was the better team in the second half. And it made all the difference in a memorable Senior Day win.
Interim HC Cadillac Williams (Mackenzie Harris/Auburn Athletics)
Since Cadillac Williams became Auburn’s interim head coach less than three weeks ago, his players have openly talked about how he brought “Old Auburn” back to the program.
That spirit was evident in the comeback effort against Mississippi State two weeks ago. It was all over the field, quite literally, in the win over Texas A&M last week.
And Williams somehow found a way to turn the “Old Auburn” dial up even higher Saturday against Western Kentucky by literally calling plays from his days as a Tiger.
“We are bringing it back to some big-boy football,” Williams said. “You know, coming downhill, hitting you in the mouth and being able to fight or quit. Like, challenging these guys fight or quit. We also threw some old 2004 Auburn plays in there.
“I told Jarquez, I said, 'Hey, that halfback pass, it's going to be a touchdown.’”
And even when Western Kentucky rallied back quickly from that Jarquez Hunter-to-Koy Moore touchdown pass to tie the game at 17 going into halftime, Williams and his interim staff doubled down on that big-boy approach.
Just 3.7 rushing yards per carry in the first half? Doesn’t matter. The Tigers ran it even more after halftime — only attempting four passes — and averaged 7.9 yards per carry in a dominant second half.
Western Kentucky apparently got your number with its fast-paced passing attack? Auburn didn’t make massive changes on defense. It stuck to the game plan and won out in the second half with its depth and talent, shutting out the Hilltoppers and holding them to just 2.6 yards per play. In fact, Auburn’s defense scored more than WKU’s offense, with D.J. James coming up with an exclamation point of a pick-six.
“They definitely did come out and punch us,” defensive tackle Colby Wooden said. “Luckily, we were able to bounce back and kind of get back to what we're doing — running the football, playing physical defense. Shoutout to Coach Lac for trusting us and letting us do our thing.”
On a day when so many teams across the SEC played lackadaisical games against smaller-conference opponents or had surprising upsets dropped on them, Auburn kept a lot of the momentum going from Williams’ first win.
Even after a rough close to the second quarter, the Tigers surged in front of a loud crowd to notch a 41-17 victory over Western Kentucky and keep their long-shot hopes of making a bowl game alive.
“We came out flat,” linebacker Owen Pappoe said. “There’s been times this season where we went downhill going into the second half. Just going out there and continuing to pick up the pace and finishing strong — that’s what we did.”
Here are four Observations from Auburn’s win over Western Kentucky, along with Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Night.
RB Tank Bigsby (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
Auburn stuck to its guns — specifically, the two in the backfield
Western Kentucky knew exactly what Auburn wanted to do. Over the last two weeks, the Tigers have focused their game plans around Tank Bigsby and Hunter, while quarterback Robby Ashford hasn’t been a major factor through the air.
In the first half, Auburn had a hard time establishing the running game on a consistent basis. It only had three explosive runs on its 19 attempts. The average was well below the mark that it had set in recent games against SEC competition, which was a worrying sign against a Conference USA team.
So, at halftime, Williams got blunt with his offensive line and his top two backs.
“As a staff, we challenged the offensive line,” Williams said. “I told them they were getting their butt kicked in the trenches. Then I looked right at the running backs — Tank Bigsby, Jarquez Hunter – 'You guys got to break tackles. I see you guys going down. We need extra yards.' … Those guys responded.”
The Tigers threw the ball even less in the second half, doubling down on a power running game that featured more fullbacks and multi-tight end sets than usual. It worked. Six of Auburn’s 23 rushing attempts after halftime were explosive plays, including a 35-yard touchdown run from Bigsby and a 40-yard touchdown run by Hunter.
“One thing the really good coaches got in common is getting the ball to their best players,” Williams said. “It's not about what system we run. I'm a firm believer that you've got to do what's best for your team, the strength of your team. So if that's us lining up and running different ways and using Robby with his legs to run the football — right now, that's where we’re at.”
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