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Quarter-by-quarter look at the Birmingham Bowl

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn (6-6) takes on Memphis (9-3) in the Birmingham Bowl Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015 at Legion Field.

Follow along as we post updates after each quarter on the top players, key moments and game-changing decisions.

Third Quarter: Auburn 17, Memphis 10

Key Player (s): Sean White and Jeremy Johnson helped steady the ship on offense. White was under center for the majority of the quarter, but Johnson made the most of his two snaps. He threw for a 11-yard touchdown and ran the ball 17-yards up the middle. White was 5 of 7 for 74 yards in the quarter.

Key Moment: Memphis looked like it might open the second half by marching down the field and taking the lead, but Auburn’s defense had other ideas.

Tray Matthews picked off Paxton Lynch in the end zone thanks to some help from teammate Carlton Davis.

Davis tipped a ball intended for Memphis wide receiver Mose Frazier to set up the turnover.

Key Decision: Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said in a pre-game interview the team had a few packages for backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson.

With Auburn in the red zone for the first time in the second half, Malzahn called for one of those packages.

Johnson hit Jason Smith for an 11-yard touchdown to give Auburn a 17-10 lead with 3:12 left in the third quarter on his first pass attempt of the afternoon.

Second Quarter: Auburn 10, Memphis 10

Key Player: Blake Countess helped make up for a key defensive mistake by blocking a field goal with 5:55 to go in the first half.

Facing a third-and-25, Memphis was content to punt the ball away from its 33-yard line

Doroland Dorceus ran the ball at the right side for what would have been a 1-yard gain, but a face-mask penalty on Rudy Ford gave Memphis a first down at midfield.  

Memphis turned to Elliott when the offense’s drive stalled inside the 20-yard line. Countess blocked Elliott’s second attempt of the morning coming through the left side of the line.

Key Moment: Sean White gift-wrapped a late Christmas present for Memphis late in the first half.  

Instead of taking a sack on a fourth-and-two at midfield, White threw a last-ditch pass attempt to Kerryon Johnson in the flat that went right to Memphis free safety Reggis Ball.

Ball caught the ball cutting up field and went 56 yards all the way to the end zone to tie the game 10-10. Wynton McManis, who was unblocked off the edge, pressured White on the play.

Key Decision: Auburn shouldn’t have pushed its luck.

It had success with a fake punt in the first half, but a second attempt at trickery backfired in a big way.

After forcing a turnover on downs at midfield, wide receiver Jason Smith threw an interception on a reverse pass right into the hands of Memphis linebacker Reggis ball at his own 23-yard line.

Memphis capitalized on the turnover with a Birmingham Bowl record 53-yard field goal from Jake Elliott. It was Elliott’s fourth field goal from 50 or more yards this season.

First Quarter: Auburn 10, Memphis 0

Key Player: Kerryon Johnson gets the nod by doing a little bit of everything. He had three carries for 17 yards with a touchdown and caught a pass on a fake punt for 37 yards.

Key Moment: The wildcat under Kerryon Johnson had middling success during the regular season, but the freshman back broke out a few of his best moves for the Birmingham Bowl to score a touchdown out of the formation.

Johnson spun out of a tackle attempt from Memphis linebacker Wynton McManis at the line of scrimmage then pushed forward at the goal line past to put his team up 10-0 with 1:58 to go in the first quarter.

His third touchdown capped off a 10-play, 70-yard drive.  

Key Decision: Auburn dug in its bag of tricks early in the game Wednesday calling a fake punt on its opening drive at midfield.

Kevin Phillips threw a perfect pass to a wide-open Kerryon Johnson for a first down and more. Johnson went 37-yards down to Memphis’ 3-yard line.

While Auburn couldn’t score a touchdown, the fake did lead to points — a 20-yard field goal from Daniel Carlson — and kept Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch on the sidelines a little bit longer.

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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