Chad Kelly had a career night, but it was Sean White’s moment.
White’s effectiveness in the fourth quarter helped Auburn overcome a disastrous defensive performance and escape Oxford with a 40-29 win on Saturday night.
The sophomore quarterback put Auburn in position to take a 30-29 lead early in the fourth quarter. He completed a pair of first down throws and ran for another to Ole Miss’ 22-yard line on a late-game drive.
The possession sputtered inside the 20-yard line, but Daniel Carlson came on for the 30-yard field goal with 12:25 left in the game.
It was the eighth and final lead change of the night.
“We knew we really had to play for four quarters,” Auburn quarterback Sean White said. “We came out and I’m just proud of my teammates. We fought the whole game and we came out on top. It was a huge win against a great team, great quarterback. I have a lot of respect for him. He made a lot of great plays.”
Auburn’s win — the sixth of the season making the Tigers bowl-eligible — made Kelly’s gaudy offensive numbers meaningless.
Chad Kelly threw for a career-high 465 yards, breaking the program record Archie Manning set when he threw for 436 yards against Alabama in 1969. It was the third most passing yards Auburn allowed in program history.
Kelly had more yards at the half (275) than Auburn’s secondary had given up in a game all season (260), but it was a pair of plays the senior didn’t make that will be remembered.
After standout tight end Evan Engram dropped what would have been a sure touchdown with less than eight minutes left, Kelly threw an interception right into the hands of Joshua Holsey
The turnover allowed Auburn to take its first two-possession lead of the game.
“It was probably the play of the game,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “At that point it was kind of back and forth. When he returned that and flipped the field, it gave the offense a short field and we were able to score there. That really put the game away.”
Auburn’s first attempt at taking a lead in the second half was shorter lived.
With Auburn facing a third-and-13 backed up at midfield, Sean White scrambled 16 yards for a first down to extend the drive.
White completed a 33-yard pass to a wide-open Marcus Davis to get the offense inside Ole Miss’ 20-yard line. Two plays later he found sophomore tight end Jalen Harris for a 15-yard touchdown.
Auburn’s celebration lasted less than two minutes.
Kelly completed three passes for 46 yards and broke a 21-yard run to get Ole Miss back into the end zone. Kelly capped off a quick 75-yard scoring drive with a 10-yard toss to Damore’ea Stringfellow.
“Ole Miss, whatever their record is isn’t good enough,” Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson said. “They’re a very talented team. They’ve been up on a lot of good teams. They were up on Ole Miss, they were up on Alabama, we knew we were going to have to face adversity.”
Ole Miss showed it could effectively neutralize Auburn’s intimidating front right out of the gate by having Kelly get rid of the ball quickly on short drop backs.
Montravius Adams knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage on the opening drive, but that was the only time Auburn’s defensive line disrupted any of Kelly’s early attempts.
On a 12 play, 78-yard drive to open the game, the senior completed passes of at least 10-yards or more to four different receivers.
Kelly hit his favorite target Evan Engram four times on the opening possession with the final completion going for a 15-yard touchdown.
Ole Miss’ second drive followed a similar script with Kelly marching his team right down field and hitting DaMarkus Lodge for a 26-yard touchdown.
The first quarter ended with Ole Miss knocking on the door a third time.
Kelly’s 212 passing yards in the first 15 minutes were three short of the 215 total yards of offense Arkansas put up against Auburn’s defense the previous week.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” Malzahn said. “That quarterback had an outstanding night, their receivers had an outstanding night and they are a good offensive football team. I don’t know what they are averaging at home, but they have played some really good teams and they score a lot of points. They present a lot of challenges.”
Auburn relied on its full stable of running backs to keep pace.
Quarterback Sean White hit Kyle Davis for a 9-yard gain on the lone third down attempt of the drive the Tigers’ first possession, but the running backs did the rest.
Kamryn Pettway, Stanton Truitt and Johnson each carried the ball on the Tigers’ 10-play, 90-yard drive.
Pettway scored his seventh touchdown of the season with a 41-yard run. The former fullback barreled through the middle of Ole Miss’ defensive line to give his team a 7-6 lead with 7:27 go
The sophomore disappeared in a sea of red and blue only to come out the other side undeterred. He would go on to break his career high for a third straight week with 236 yards.
“That’s just the performances I expect out of him now,” Johnson said. “He’s a load and loves to run the football hard and physical, and it’s hard for people to tackle him. If he keeps that up we’ll go very far.”
Pettway broke another long run early in the second quarter down to Ole Miss’ 3-yard line where Johnson punched it in from the 1-yard line out of the wildcat.
Johnson’s first touchdown in three weeks gave Auburn a 17-16 lead with 12:33 to go in the first half.
The teams traded the lead five times in the wild first half with Ole Miss going into the tunnel up 22-20.