Auburn rushing attack too much for WKU in 41-17 loss


Sean McInnis

WKU redshirt senior wide reciever, Daewood Davis, celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against Rice at Feix Field on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. WKU won 45-10.

Camden Bush, Football reporter

WKU Football (7-5, 5-2 C-USA) lost 41-17 in a tough battle against the Auburn Tigers (5-6, 2-5 SEC) Saturday afternoon at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The Hilltoppers had a strong first half but were unable to capitalize as the Tigers dominated the back half of the contest en route to a victory. Auburn blanked WKU 24-0 in the second half. 

The matchup was WKU’s first against an SEC opponent since 2019. The Hilltoppers defeated Arkansas in that matchup, but Auburn proved to be too much for WKU. 

Auburn and WKU’s different play styles were on display throughout the game. Auburn’s running attack led the home squad to victory with 252 yards on the ground.

Auburn’s junior running back Tank Bigsby and senior running back Jarquez Hunter both had huge games with each back contributing over 100 yards of offense. Bigsby also had two touchdowns and Hunter finished with one.

WKU, on the other hand, heavily featured the passing game on offense. Graduate quarterback Austin Reed threw the ball 55 times, completing 26 of his attempts for 290 yards. Reed threw for two touchdowns but also two interceptions.

Sophomore Malachi Corley once again led WKU’s receiving corps with 12 receptions and 99 yards. Sophomore Joshua Simon also had a strong performance in which he had two receiving touchdowns.

The WKU defense struggled as Auburn’s rush attack tore the unit apart. The defense also failed to force any turnovers, while Auburn forced WKU to turn the ball over twice.

First Half

The Hilltoppers received the opening kickoff and put together a solid first drive, but failed to score. WKU pushed up into field goal range but could not convert on a 50-yard field goal.

The following Auburn drive resulted in a touchdown, giving the Tigers a 7-0 lead. The Auburn drive took 6:25 off the clock and went 68 yards. Bigsby capped off a drive that included a fourth down conversion and facemask call with a one-yard touchdown run.

WKU pushed it into Auburn territory again the following drive, but the Hilltoppers were once again unable to score. The Hilltoppers went for it on fourth and four at the Auburn 29 and failed to convert, turning it over on downs.

Auburn then knocked down a 51-yard field goal with its next drive to expand the lead to 10-0. The Tigers’ drive went 37 yards and lasted over four-and-a-half minutes.

The Hilltoppers failed to move the ball very far with their next drive, as they were forced to punt after only gaining one first down.

The Tigers’ next drive started at their own 42 after a short punt and an 18-yard return. The Hilltopper defense stood strong despite the good field position for Auburn, forcing a three-and-out.

WKU’s next drive started at its own 45 after a catch interference penalty by Auburn on the punt. Reed led the Hilltoppers down the field once again, finally getting on the board with a field goal after the drive stalled out in the red zone. The 27-yard field goal made it a 10-3 game.

Auburn responded to the field goal with a seven play touchdown drive. The drive was capped off by a 20-yard passing touchdown by Auburn’s running back Jarquez Hunter on a trick play. The touchdown gave Auburn a 17-3 advantage.

The Hilltoppers followed with their best drive of the game. Reed and Corley connected for a big third down conversion that went for 25 yards and an unnecessary roughness call on Auburn added 15 more after the fact. Reed then found Simon for a 22-yard touchdown to make it a 17-10 ballgame.

WKU’s defense came up with a big stop, only allowing the Tigers to gain one first down with their next drive.

The Hilltoppers got the ball back with 3:43 remaining in the half. WKU put together a perfect drive that resulted in a touchdown with only six seconds left on the clock. Simon brought down a 27-yard touchdown on a screen pass, making it a 17-17 game going into the half.

Second Half 

Auburn received the ball coming out of the break. The Hilltoppers forced a quick three-and-out to begin the third quarter. Auburn’s defense came up with a big interception at its own 39.

The WKU defense followed the interception with another forced punt after a three-and-out. The Tigers quickly got the ball back as WKU was forced to punt after only gaining one first down.

The Tigers drove down inside the red zone thanks to a 29-yard completion, but they were ultimately forced to settle for a 28-yard field goal. The completed attempt gave the Tigers a 20-17 lead.

The Hilltoppers picked up a couple first downs on the following drive, but were ultimately forced to punt it away for the third straight possession.

Auburn tacked on another touchdown with their next drive. The Tigers took the ball 78 yards down the field, all on running plays. Bigsby capped off the drive with a 35-yard scoring run to make it 27-17.

Both teams were quickly forced to punt on their next drives as WKU only gained one first down and Auburn went three-and-out.

WKU moved the ball down the field in its following possession, but ultimately turned it over on downs. The Hilltoppers were forced to go for it on 4th and 23 as a near fumble pushed them out of field goal range, and they failed to convert. WKU finished 2-of-5 on fourth down attempts.

The Tigers put together another scoring drive in which they added a touchdown to make it 34-17. The running game continued to shine for Auburn as Hunter ran for a 40-yard touchdown to end the drive.

Reed threw a pick-six the following possession on 3rd and 17. The touchdown for Auburn gave the home team a comfortable 41-17 lead late in the fourth quarter.

WKU proceeded to kill the rest of the clock with its final possession and took the defeat.

Up next, the Hilltoppers will square off with FAU in the final regular season game of the season next Saturday in Boca Raton, Florida at 11 a.m. CT.

WKU needs to win and have North Texas lose against Rice for the Hilltoppers to clinch a spot in the Conference USA Championship against UTSA.

Football reporter Camden Bush can be reached at [email protected].