No. 12 Auburn falls to No. 18 Minnesota in Outback Bowl

Noah Igbinoghene (4) returns a kickoff for a TD in the first half. Auburn football Outback Bowl v Minnesota on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020 in Tampa, FL. Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics (Source: Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics)
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TAMPA, Fla. (WSFA) No. 12 Auburn’s (9-4) shot at a 10-win season came up short as the Tigers fell 31-24 in the Outback Bowl to the No. 18 Minnesota Golden Gophers (11-2).

Auburn jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first quarter after on an Anders Carlson 24-yard field goal with 12:17 to play. Auburn’s opening points came after the Tiger defense intercepted Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan on the game’s opening possession.

Minnesota wouldn’t trail for long, evening the score at 3 on the very next possession. The Golden Gophers were able to get to just outside the red zone before Auburn’s defense held Minnesota’s offense in check.

The Auburn offense wouldn’t even see the field but the Tigers still found the end zone. That’s because on the ensuing kickoff following Minnesota’s game-tying field goal, Noah Igbinoghene returned the kickoff 96 yards to the house to put Auburn on top 10-3.

Then, things really looked like they would get ugly for Minnesota. The Golden Gophers went three-and-out on offense next possession out and was forced to punt it away. On the punt, Auburn return man Christian Tutt fumbled the ball and Minnesota recovered, following it up with a touchdown possession to tie the game.

It only took three plays as Minnesota’s Mohamed Ibrahim scampered in from 16 yards out.

Midway through the second quarter, the Auburn Tigers would face their first deficit of the day. After stopping the Golden Gophers three consecutive times to bring up 4th and goal, Minnesota converted with a 4th and goal touchdown. Morgan tossed his first touchdown pass of the game and the Tigers were behind 17-10.

Auburn found an answer next drive out, doing the same thing Minnesota did. The Tigers got to the Minnesota 37 before facing a 4th and 5. Only needing five yards, freshman quarterback Bo Nix went for it all, connecting with tight end Sal Canella for a 37-yard touchdown to tie things back at 17.

Minnesota made it three consecutive scoring drives between the two teams going into halftime when the Golden Gophers were able to drive nine plays covering 76 yards. An incredible one-handed catch along the edge of the back of the end zone by Tyler Johnson gave Minnesota a 24-17 advantage. Minnesota would take that lead into the half.

After half, the scoring slowed down and it became a battle between the two defenses.

Each team opened with a punt before Auburn put together a 13-play drive that was kept alive by a defensive pass interference call on the Minnesota side of the field. Seth Williams had a spectacular catch along the sideline to put Auburn inside the Minnesota 10, and JaTarvious Whitlow finished off the drive diving over the goal line to tie things at 24. Whitlow’s touchdown run came on 3rd and goal and out of the wildcat. Whitlow took the snap and faked the jet sweep to Anthony Schwartz, confusing the Minnesota defense and plowing ahead before leaping up and over for six.

Each team struggled to gain momentum as Minnesota followed with a punt, Auburn turned it over on downs via failed fake punt at the end of the third quarter, and Minnesota’s drive stalled again at the top of the fourth quarter.

Auburn had a shot to take the lead following Minnesota’s failed drive but went three-and-out at a crucial time.

The Auburn defense wasn’t able to slow the Minnesota offense down any further as the Golden Gophers found gold on the first play of their next drive. It was Morgan to Johnson again, this time for 73 yards to put Minnesota ahead 31-24 with 10:26 left to play. Johnson faked an a deep corner towards the sideline before breaking his route off back towards the middle of the field where Morgan found him all alone. Morgan hit Johnson in stride and Johnson did the rest, racing into the end zone.

Auburn’s next drive lasted only 1:48 as the Tigers were forced to punt. Still, they could even the score if the defense could get a stop. However, Minnesota would take over and control the ball the remainder of the game, converting a critical fourth down on the drive with under four minutes to play to seal the win. Minnesota’s final drive lasted over eight minutes to exhaust the remaining fourth-quarter time.

The freshman quarterback Nix finished the game 17 of 26 for 176 yards and a passing touchdown. Auburn was held to just 56 rushing yards in the game. On the other side, Morgan finished 19 of 29 for 278 yards and two touchdown passes. Ibrahim finished with 140 yards rushing. As a team, the Golden Gophers rushed for over 215 yards, well over Auburn’s average of just 115.5 rushing yards per game allowed entering the Outback Bowl.

For Auburn, it was the final time that 25 seniors would wear the Auburn uniform again in their careers. They end the season with nine wins for the fifth time from 2010-2019. Now the Tigers turn towards the spring and the 2020 season.