Auburn falls at Texas A&M in SEC opener

Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Eugene Asante returned a fumble 67 yards for a touchdown and Alex McPherson kicked a career-long 53-yard field goal to account for Auburn's points Saturday in a 27-10 loss to Texas A&M in front of 102,530 at Kyle Field in the Tigers' SEC opener.

Trailing 20-3 early in the fourth quarter, Kayin Lee caused a fumble that Asante caught before sprinting down the Aggies' sideline for an Auburn touchdown that pulled the Tigers within 10 points.

"Coach talks about running to the football," Asante said. "I was on the back side of the play. Just trying to make a play for my team. We're going to go back, watch the film and see what we can improve upon."

Auburn's defense forced a punt and the Tigers drove to the Aggies' 28-yard line before a penalty and two negative plays led to a Tigers' punt. 

A 79-yard Texas A&M rush set up a 4-yard Le'Veon Moss touchdown run the game's final score with 3:59 to play. 

Backup quarterback Max Johnson completed his first five passes and threw a pair of third-quarter touchdowns to spark the Aggies after a first half controlled by both defenses. 

"The third quarter was dominated by them," Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze said. "They're a good football team. I thought our kids played well enough on defense outside of the few explosive plays to give us a chance to win the game, but offensively we're searching and we've got to find some answers."

Trailing 6-3 to start the second half, Auburn went three-and-out to give Texas A&M a short field. 

Taking over after an injury to the Aggies' starter, Johnson completed three passes on his first drive, including a 22-yard play-action touchdown pass to his brother Jake Johnson for a 13-3 Texas A&M lead. 

After another Auburn three-and-out, Johnson connected with Evan Stewart for a 37-yard touchdown to put Texas A&M ahead 20-3 midway through the third quarter before Asante's big play gave the Tigers hope early in the fourth quarter.

Auburn struggled offensively, going 3-for-15 on third down and generating 200 total yards while allowing seven sacks.

"We certainly missed a few opportunities in the passing game," Freeze said. "We were running efficiently early on but you've got to stay balanced and we weren't efficient at throwing the ball to open receivers."

Brian Battie provided an offensive spark, rushing for 59 yards on eight carries and adding 23 receiving yards on two catches. 

"The big boys up front, they were dominating the line of scrimmage in the run game," said Battie, crediting Auburn's offensive line. "They gave me the opportunity to get out in open space and that's my specialty."

"It was good to see him have success," Freeze said of Battie's 81 total yards on 10 touches. "We like him a lot."

Caleb Wooden's first career sack stopped Texas A&M's opening drive, leading to a 51-yard Aggies field goal.

After Auburn's opening drive ended with a three-and-out, the Aggies added a 32-yard field goal to lead 6-0 with 5:31 remaining in the first quarter. 

Forcing three consecutive three-and-outs, Auburn's defense limited the Aggies to six plays in the second quarter, yielding 14 yards and no first downs. 

Auburn controlled possession in the second quarter, holding the ball for 12 minutes and 30 seconds and scoring on McPherson's 53-yarder with five seconds left in the half.

Asante led Auburn with nine tackles. Cam Riley added a sack.

Auburn (3-1, 0-1) returns to Jordan-Hare Stadium next Saturday to host Georgia at 2:30 p.m. CT in the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry on CBS and the Auburn Sports Network. 

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter: @jeff_shearer

Postgame Notes>> Captains: Luke Deal, Elijah McAllister, Kam Stutts, Payton Thorne
>> Coin Toss: Auburn wins the toss and defers; Texas A&M will receive
>> Attendance: 102,530 

>> First-time starters for Auburn: None
>> Auburn has scored in 133 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in school history.

>> Jarquez Hunter is now 37th among Auburn career rushers with 1,406 yards, passing Mario Fannin (1,366 from 2007-10) and Mitzi Jackson (1,373 from 1973-75); next is Monk Gafford (1,414 from 1940-42), Cam Newton (1,473 in 2010).

>> Eugene Asante scored his first career touchdown on the fourth-quarter 67-yard fumble recovery. It was Auburn's first score on a fumble return since Marcus Harris vs. Arkansas in 2021. It was Auburn's longest fumble return for a score since an 82-yard return by Justin Garrett vs. Louisville in 2015. It was the longest fumble return since 2019 – Big Kat Bryant vs. Oregon (83 yards).

>> Kayin Lee's forced fumble was the first of his career.

>> Caleb Wooden recorded his first career sack.

>> Cam Riley recorded his second sack of the season and the second of his career

>> Alex McPherson's 53-yard field goal was a career long (previous: 51, Western Kentucky, 2022).