ATLANTA – The Auburn Tigers had some bad memories from their last two trips to Atlanta.
They headed home from this one feeling a whole lot better.
With a performance that didn’t earn a bunch of style points but will look awfully good on the resume, No. 9 Auburn rallied for a 21-16 victory over No. 6 Washington when Jatarvious Whitlow ran 10 yards for a touchdown with 6 minutes, 15 seconds remaining Saturday.
The Auburn defense came through at the end, preserving the win with a fierce pass rush against Jake Browning.
“We talked about overcoming adversity,” Tigers coach Gus Malzahn said. “Last season we didn’t win hardly any close games. We knew this game was going to come down to the end.”
The Tigers closed last season with back-to-back losses at Mercedes-Benz Stadium – first to Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game, then to Central Florida in the Peach Bowl.
They were facing another disappointment, trailing 16-15 after scoring a touchdown on their opening possession of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game but missing a surprise 2-point conversion.
Jarrett Stidham got Auburn rolling with a 12-yard pass to Chandler Cox on third-and-9. Then, facing third-and-7 deep in Washington territory, Auburn handed off inside to Whitlow, who knocked over a Washington safety as he barreled into the end zone to cap a 10-play, 76-yard drive.
“It was an amazing feeling,” said Whitlow, part of the group trying to replace workhorse runner Kerryon Johnson, who’s now in the NFL. “I’m so grateful that the coaches have confidence in me in that situation.”
Washington drove to the Auburn 37 with plenty of time to pull off the comeback, but Myles Gaskin was thrown for a 3-yard loss and Browning was left running for his life on the Huskies’ last two offensive plays. Big Kat Bryant sacked the quarterback for another 3-yard setback, and safety Smoke Monday finished it off with a blitz that forced Browning to just fling the ball away, resulting in an intentional grounding penalty.
Stidham was 26 of 36 for 273 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown pass to Sal Cannella, who made a leaping grab in the end zone before landing flat on his back.
Browning, looking to bounce back from a disappointing junior season, completed 18 of 32 for 296 yards. He was picked off once but connected with Quinten Pounds on a 13-yard touchdown in the final minute of the first half .
“We’re not into moral victories,” Browning said. “We came here to win, and we didn’t.”
Peyton Henry put the Huskies ahead for the first time with his third field goal, a 30-yarder that clanked off the right upright but ricocheted through with 14:06 remaining.
Both teams squandered scoring chances.
Anders Carlson, taking over from older brother Daniel as Auburn’s kicker, connected on three field goals – including a 53-yarder – but missed from 33 and 54 yards.
Washington was kicking itself after coming away from a first-and-goal with no points. On third down at the 3, Browning rolled right looking to make a pitch only to be smacked by Nick Poe. The ball squirted free and Auburn’s Darrell Williams fell on it at the 20.
“That’s where we lost the game,” Browning said. “I went to pitch it. The guy put his hand out and blocked it. I’ve got to take the loss and take the field goal.”
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