NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Jarquez Hunter turned in his best rushing performance yet, and the Auburn Tigers now have strung together back-to-back Southeastern Conference victories.
Hunter ran for 121 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter alone and finished with a career-high 183 yards, helping Auburn never trail Saturday in beating Vanderbilt 31-15 before enough fans that it felt much more like a Tigers' home game.
“We’re one step closer to bowl eligibility, which I’m proud for our kids, our seniors,” first-year Auburn coach Hugh Freeze said.
Auburn (5-4, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) now has consecutive wins after snapping a four-game skid overall. This win snapped an eight-game SEC road skid with Auburn's first win away from home in league play since Oct. 16, 2021, and a 38-23 win at then-No. 17 Arkansas.
Payton Thorne threw for 194 yards and two touchdowns, including a 53-yarder to Rivaldo Fairweather. Auburn outgained Vandy 424-266, and the Tigers also had five sacks and Nehemiah Pritchett's interception with 1:50 left sealed the win.
With Arkansas beating Florida in overtime earlier Saturday, Vanderbilt (2-8, 0-6) now is the SEC's lone winless team in league play. The Commodores must try to win on the road to avoid being shut out in the SEC with this their last home game as Vanderbilt continues its first major renovation since 1981.
“You can't be a good team until you're a consistent team,” Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea said. “Again, I saw flashes of promising plays, and I saw guys stepping up but did not do enough to get within one score late and have a chance to put a little pressure on Auburn.”
Hunter put Auburn ahead to stay on the Tigers' second play from scrimmage. He ran up the middle to the left sideline for a 67-yard touchdown. He capped Auburn's third drive with a 56-yarder, giving him 121 yards on his first three rushes and a 14-0 lead after the first quarter.
He nearly finished the game with a 25-yard TD run with about a minute left only to have it erased by a holding penalty.
Auburn finished with three scoring plays of 50 yards or longer on offense for the first time since the 2018 Music City Bowl rout of Purdue. Hunter said the Tigers still have some things they can improve on in practice.
“We corect those, we’ll be a great team,” Hunter said.
Bryce Cowan intercepted a Thorne pass and had to run only 4 yards for Vanderbilt's first touchdown early in the second quarter. He became the ninth player to pick off a pass this season for the Commodores who now now have 11 after coming into this game tied with Auburn for most in the SEC.
Held to 93 yards in the first half, Vanderbilt tried to rally in the third down 31-7. Ken Seals threw a 30-yard TD pass to Junior Sherill, and they converted the 2-point run to pull within 31-15. Vandy had first-and-goal at the Auburn 10 when Marcus Harris and Cam Riley sacked Seals for an 11-yard loss.
Seals' final throw into the end zone on fourth-and-14 nearly went over the wall into the construction zone as the Commodores turned the ball over on downs.
"I thought our defense rose up when they had to,” Freeze said.
Auburn: The Tigers showed a quick-strike ability on each of their first three TD drives. It helped with Hunter's two long TD runs, but the only scoring drive that used up more than 79 seconds came in the third quarter. The Tigers used up 2:13 of the clock over seven plays and 64 yards before Thorne's second TD pass, a 5-yarder to Jeremiah Cobb for a 31-7 lead.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores went three-and-out on six possessions, including five of their first seven possessions trailing 17-7 at halftime. They didn't top 100 yards total offense until late in the third quarter and didn't pick up a first down until early in the fourth quarter. They finished 2-of-14 on third downs.
Hunter's 67-yard TD was his longest run this season. His 121 yards in the first quarter were the most since Tre Mason had 141 yards on six carries in the first quarter for Auburn against Alabama A&M in 2012.
Auburn hadn't had a 100-yard rusher in the first half since Tank Bigsby had 106 yards against Arkansas in 2020. Hunter's first quarter was Auburn's best against an SEC opponent since Casinious Moore ran for 104 yards against Mississippi State in 2001.
Auburn visits Arkansas.
Vanderbilt visits South Carolina.
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