Kentucky failed to capitalize on red-zone opportunities, and that came back to haunt the Wildcats as Auburn came out of Lexington with a 30-27 victory for the Tigers' first SEC win of 2015.
A pair of second-quarter trips for Kentucky's offense inside the Auburn 10-yard line turned into an interception in the end zone and a field goal, and Auburn took a 13 point lead into halftime. After a touchdown drive to open the third quarter for Kentucky cut the lead to six, Patrick Towles and company again marched down the field, but stalled in the red zone. Austin MacGinnis tacked on his second field goal of the evening, but six points from those three drives stood as the turning point of the game.
In the first half, Auburn's offense showed some signs of life, as Sean White threw for 186 first half yards with Ricardo Louis drawing most of the receiving yardage (114) en route to a career-high 154 yards. Auburn scored on five of their six first-half drives, with touchdowns on their opening pair of possessions. Freshman Kerryon Johnson offered an additional spark from the Wildcat formation as he ran for the Tigers' second touchdown and gained 36 rushing yards total on the night.
The Tigers, however, got bogged down in the second half. Auburn only scored on one of their second-half possessions, with a three-yard Peyton Barber rushing touchdown, and was limited to 110 yards. All of Auburn's other (non-knee down) series in the game's closing half ended with punts, with two of the drives ending in three-and-outs.
Towles, Stanley "Boom" Williams and the Kentucky offense raked up significant yards against Auburn's defense under first-year defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. Towles threw for 359 yards and Williams, after missing Kentucky's last game against Eastern Kentucky, ran for 116 yards and two touchdowns to contribute to a nearly 500-yard performance as a team. Garrett Johnson was the primary benefactor of Towles' big day as the sophomore from Florida had nine catches for a game-high 160 yards.
But for as well as Kentucky's offense moved the ball, it was the failure to convert the second- and third-quarter red-zone opportunities into touchdowns that cost the Wildcats the game. At 4-2, bowl eligibility is certainly still in the frame for the Wildcats, particularly with games against Vanderbilt and Charlotte to come. Add in winnable games against teams including Mississippi State, Tennessee and Louisville, and it is not difficult to see the Wildcats ending up with seven or eight wins and a solid mid-tier SEC bowl berth.
For Auburn, this win could be the start of a turnaround. A solid first-half performance by Sean White offers a glimpse of what he could do against an SEC defense, but with the (theoretically) more difficult half of the Tigers' season to come, it's hard to project the Gus Malzahn's third team finishing better than 8-4. Idaho is the only sure win on the schedule, and while it's doubtful Auburn would finish with the Vandals as their lone remaining win, going better than 3-2 against Arkansas, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama looks unlikely.