The 2020 Outback Bowl offered a familiar situation for the Auburn Tigers. The Minnesota Golden Gophers were ranked, and the game came down to the very end. Just like many times in the regular season, the Tigers came up just short and Auburn lost the Outback Bowl 31-24. Minnesota was led by receiver Tyler Johnson who had a huge afternoon. Johnson had 12 receptions for 204 yards and two touchdowns. The final touchdown would be the difference in the game. With 10:26 left in the fourth quarter Tanner Morgan connected with Johnson for a 73-yard touchdown to break the tie of 24. Later in the fourth quarter Minnesota would go on a 16-play, 68-yard drive to run out the clock for the win.
Auburn Loses Outback Bowl 31-24
Auburn Defense Struggles
For the first 11 games of the season Auburn knew each week they could rely on the defense to limit the opposing offense. The first 11 teams were averaging 306.5 yards per game. That was just 197 on the ground and 109 through the air. In the last two games against Alabama and Minnesota the defense gave up an average of 504.5 yards per game. The Tigers have been torched in passing with giving up 307. The yardage is not the worse of it. The worse stat was that Minnesota possessed the ball for 37:35 and tired out the Auburn defense. The team was obviously tired on the final drive that sealed the game.
The defense did have its moments on Wednesday. On the first drive for Minnesota, Morgan was intercepted by Javaris Davis that set up the offense at the Golden Gopher 12. That play led to an Auburn field goal by Anders Carlson of 24 yards to go up 3-0. The special teams added another score on a kickoff return by Noah Igbinoghene after Minnesota tied the game with a field goal of their own. Igbinoghene returned it for 96 yards and gave Auburn a 10-3 advantage with 6:23 left in the first quarter. Auburn did not hold a lead again in the game.
Minnesota did a good job blocking up front to limit what the Auburn defensive front could do. Both Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson playing in their final game did not have a great impact. Brown and Davidson had a combined five tackles and zero sacks. The Golden Gophers ground game had the most success any team had against the Tigers all season. Minnesota totaled 215 on the ground and were led by Mohamed Ibrahim with 140 yards with one touchdown. Tanner Morgan was not sacked at all and used quick passing to a total of 278 yards.
Auburn Offense Inconsistent
Inconsistency at the running game was an issue all season for Auburn. In the big games when Auburn needed to show balance the rushing attack only showed up in spots. Auburn has talented backs in JaTarvious Whitlow, D.J. Williams, and Shaun Shivers. The issue the last two seasons has been the offensive line not opening the holes for the backs to run through. In the Outback Bowl the Tigers were only able to rush for 56 yards. Auburn attempted to rush 26 times for just 2.2 yards per rush. Whitlow was the leading rusher with 24 yards and scored a touchdown. That score came on a three-yard run that tied the game at 24 with 5:04 remaining in the third quarter.
With the rushing attack being nonexistent a lot of pressure was once again placed on the passing game and SEC Freshman of the Year Bo Nix. Nix had a solid day going 17 for 26 for 176 and one touchdown. It was not enough to keep the offense moving without the threat of the running game. Nix had his touchdown pass late in the first half when he connected with Sal Canella with under three minutes left that tied the game at 17. The throw was made on a scramble by Nix that saw Canella get behind the defense for a 37-yard score.
Auburn Honors Pat Sullivan
Auburn wore special alternate helmets on Wednesday to honor the late Pat Sullivan. Sullivan passed away on December 1st at the age of 69 after a fight with cancer. The helmets Auburn wore had the traditional logo on one side and had Sullivan’s number seven on the other. Sullivan won the 1971 Heisman Award passing for 2,012 yards and 20 touchdowns. After nine years in the NFL, the Birmingham native returned to Auburn to coach quarterbacks under Pat Dye from 1986-91. He would go on to be head coach at TCU (1992-1997) and Samford (2007-2014). He also spent seven seasons from 1999-2006 as the offensive coordinator at UAB.
What’s Next for Auburn?
With the loss, Gus Malzahn is now 2-5 at Auburn in bowl games. Despite the win against Alabama this season there will still be plenty of scrutiny towards Malzahn during this off-season. Auburn will have major holes to fill on the roster for the 2020 season. SEC Defensive Player of the year Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson will need to be replaced on the defensive front. Also, Auburn is losing four of five starters on the offensive line due to graduation. Another key element for next season will be the development of Bo Nix. What kind of impact can new offensive coordinator Chad Morris have on Nix going into his sophomore season? The Tigers will open next season against Alcorn State at home.