A contest littered with punts was decided by a fumble into the end zone in overtime. Nathaniel Peat broke free for a 20-yard rush, reaching out for the touchdown and dropping the ball, which was then recovered by Auburn in the end zone for a touchback, to end the contest.
An experienced back, Peat had the victory in his right hand but dropped it upon reaching out for the game-winning score. Auburn’s lead came on a 39-yard kick from Anders Carlson — who was handed a second attempt following a Missouri offsides penalty — and the host Tigers survived with a 17-14 victory.
“It’s a growing process, right?” coach Eli Drinkwitz said. “Teams got to grow. Programs got to grow. Two weeks ago, we got down 13-0 and didn’t have the same mentality.
“This time, we were down 14-0 and put ourselves in a position to win the game twice. So, a lot of growth there. Now, we’ve got to finish. Onto the next step, which is finish. Take losses and turn them into lessons. Keep on going.”
Standing at Missouri’s 30-yard line with a yard to go, Auburn elected to go for a first down in the final two minutes of regulation. Time was in the home Tigers’ favor, but a handoff to Tank Bigsby was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, leaving Missouri a path to burn the clock en route to a walk-off score.
Brady Cook and company did everything to set that up.
From Auburn’s 42-yard line, MU’s quarterback stepped back and unleashed a 39-yard ball to his “safety blanket,” Dominic Lovett. Falling on his back before going out of bounds, Lovett made the play of the season thus far for Missouri, paving the way for an opportunity for a late score in a second-half flooded by punts.
“We just couldn’t get the rhythm until that last series,” Cook said.
Twenty-six yards out, Harrison Mevis missed it. The most effective drive of the second half — for either side — was spoiled by a wide-right pooch from one of the most accurate legs in Missouri history.
“No, I would do that again,” Drinkwitz said on rethinking the decision to kick at the end of regulation. “The ball’s on the 8-yard line, dead middle, and you get a chance to end the game on your last play.
“Before half, they moved the ball right down the field and gave themselves a chance for a field goal plus they had two timeouts, so we wanted to take the timeouts and end the game.”
The wheels weren’t turning much for either Missouri or Auburn in the second half. And after second-quarter adjustments from Missouri helped knot the contest at 14, neither of the Tigers could claw to a score in the second half.
A second-half punt fest ended at 12 consecutive kicks. Neither team reached the end zone in the second half, with punter Jack Stonehouse taking every advantage in his first week as the starter for Missouri. The redshirt freshman netted 384 yards on eight kicks, pinning four inside the 20-yard line, with his longest going for 68 yards.
Cook performed his best in the second quarter. After starting the contest 3-for-7 with an interception, Cook completed four of his next six passes, leading a charge of 14 points. Behind a touchdown run from Cody Schrader, Cook slammed in a late score on fourth down inside the 1-yard line to tie the contest before halftime.
Things started to click for Cook in the quarter, the QB completed 11 of his 20 passes for 179 yards through the air.
With Elijah Young out, Peat powered for 110 yards on 20 total carries. Peat — who was listed as probable on Thursday’s injury report — saw the most action out of the backfield for the Tigers with Schrader.
Auburn didn’t announce its starting quarterback until two hours before kickoff. With the host Tigers electing to start redshirt freshman Robby Ashford, Missouri didn’t have to worry about an air attack early on, but Auburn didn’t need one with its robust ground attack.
“Not necessarily,” defensive end Isaiah McGuire said when asked if the defensive game plan changed based on the quarterback. “As a defense, we prepare for anything and everything. We knew their quarterback situation, and we prepared for just their offense in general.”
The host Tigers rushed for 64 yards on 14 attempts on their opening drive, converting two fourth-down attempts and capping the drive with an 11-yard touchdown run from Ashford.
Ashford missed two drives in the third quarter after leaving the field favoring his right shoulder. The quarterback landed a block on cornerback Ennis Rakestraw and was replaced by freshman Holden Geriner.
Geriner finished two drives before Ashford’s return in the fourth quarter. Ashford ended his first start of the year 12-18 with 127 yards through the air, rushing for 46 yards on 15 carries.
Junior running back Bigsby accounted for 41 of Auburn’s first-half rushing yards, carrying the ball 19 times en route to a score himself. Missouri’s defense held Bigsby to just 4 yards on the ground in the second half.
Auburn converted three of its fourth-down opportunities in the first half, but Missouri then plugged the rushing attack, forcing two punts in the second quarter. Missouri totaled 12 tackles for loss and four sacks.
Next for Missouri is its first SEC home matchup, against No. 1 Georgia at 6:30 p.m. next Saturday. The Tigers, sitting at 2-2, host the reigning national champion for a second time under Drinkwitz — the last time being LSU during the 2020 season, a game the host Tigers won.
“That was the team I know I had going into the season,” Drinkwitz said, “the team I know I have going forward. I’ll go to bat with those guys any time. ... I’m not gonna flinch.”