LEXINGTON, Ky. — After Wes Byrum’s most famous field goal, the Auburn kicker broke out the Gator chomp, gleefully mimicking Florida’s signature clap as he ran down the field in Gainesville as a freshman three years ago.
After making a 24-yarder to lift the No. 8 Tigers to a crazy 37-34 win against Kentucky on Saturday night, the senior had a more subdued reaction.
Byrum’s first walk-off winner in three years helped Auburn (6-0, 3-0 SEC) survive its fourth nail-biter, finally putting away a scrappy Kentucky team that trailed by 17 points on two occasions.
“We are finding interesting ways to end the games, but we are 6-0 and that is all that matters,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “I am so proud of our football team finding different ways to win the game at the end.”
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Byrum lined up for a 24-yarder, not much more than an extra point, with three seconds on the clock and drilled it dead center. Auburn players poured onto the field for a somewhat restrained celebration, considering the situation.
“I actually thought the offense was going to punch it in there and score, and it was going to be the end of it,” Byrum said. “The defensive guys came up to me and I told them I was going to knock this through for them because they had been fighting the whole game.”
Tigers quarterback Cam Newton turned in another brilliant performance, accounting for 408 yards. He got 198 of them on the ground and ran for four touchdowns, all in the first half.
But his work on Auburn’s 19-play, 86-yard drive — a clock killer that spanned 7 minutes, 22 seconds and set up Byrum’s chip shot — was the most impressive part.
It almost never happened. After Kentucky tied the game at 34, the Tigers narrowly averted disaster twice, recovering Demond Washington’s fumble on a kick return at their 7 and watching as a Terrell Zachery fumble on a reverse took a fortuitous bounce out of bounds.
When the ball was in Newton’s hands, Auburn didn’t have to worry. The junior methodically guided the drive, running 10 times for 48 yards and helping Auburn convert three third downs. He hit Darvin Adams on a crossing route once and got to the markers with his legs on two other occasions.
“He’s a competitor,” Chizik said. “When the game’s on the line, he wants the ball in his hands.”
Newton last third-down conversion run, a 4-yard gain when the Tigers needed two, put the ball at the Kentucky 11. After a run and a kneel down positioned the ball in the middle of the field, Byrum drilled the game-winner.
“We feel very confident that when we put the ball in a reasonable range, he’s going to hit it,” Chizik said.
It was his Byrum’s fifth career game-winning field goal and the 51st of career, breaking the school record of 50 held by John Vaughn.
“It’s just a really cool thing,” Byrum said. “It’s humbling to be up there with the names of the people that are with me.”
The way things started, it didn’t seem early like the game would even be close. Auburn stormed to a 31-14 lead in the second quarter, mostly thanks to Newton. He led four drives that spanned 78 yards or longer, finishing each with a touchdown.
Newton scored on runs of 16, 8, 5 and 3 yards in the first half, tying Phil Gargis’ single-game quarterback record for rushing touchdowns set against Florida State in 1976.
Kentucky (3-3, 0-3) scored the next 17 points, however. Craig McIntosh made a 29-yard field goal as the halftime clock expired.
Quarterback Mike Hartline and do-it-all receiver Randall Cobb took over from there, picking up the slack with running back Derrick Locke sidelined by a shoulder stinger.
Hartline completed 23 of 28 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown, a 16-yarder to Cobb on a slant pattern that cut the lead to 31-24.
Cobb, who dabbled at receiver and quarterback, gave the Tigers fits with his mobility, just like last season’s upset at Jordan-Hare. The senior had ran for 47 yards, caught seven passes for 68 yards and completed his only pass for a 6-yard touchdown to tight end Jordan Aumiller.
He waltzed in for a 1-yard touchdown run out of the wildcat formation in the third quarter to tie things at 31.
“It is obviously not where we want to be defensively,” Chizik said. “But at the end of the day, I think the defense stepped up and made some plays when they to.”