Auburn true freshman quarterback Bo Nix threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Seth Williams with 9 seconds remaining and the 16th-ranked Tigers opened the season with a 27-21 comeback win over No. 11 Oregon on Saturday night.
Nix barely converted a fourth-and-3 at midfield in the final minute when he tucked and ran, with only the nose of the ball past the chain when officials measured. Then on third-and-10 from the Oregon 39 with no timeouts, Nix hit Williams for 13 yards, and found him again on the next play to put Auburn ahead for the first time.
“He has some savviness to him, there’s no doubt,” coach Gus Malzahn said of the young quarterback. “His first start against one of the better teams in the country, he did some really good things. … When the game was on the line, he found a way to win.”
The Tigers, who trailed 21-6 late in the third quarter, delivered another early blow to the Pac-12. They beat the Pac-12’s highest-ranked team in a season opener for the second year in a row — No. 6 Washington lost to them 21-16 in Atlanta last year.
“Tough, really tough one,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said.
Nix finished 13-of-31 passing for 177 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, and also ran seven times for 42 yards. JaTarvious Whitlow ran 24 times for 110 yards for the Tigers.
Justin Herbert, who bypassed early entry in the NFL draft to return to Oregon, was 28-of-37 passing for 242 yards with a touchdown.
Herbert wasn’t on the field for a fourth-and-1 play with 5 1/2 minutes left, after banging his knee with a defender following a pass. After Herbert was tended to and came off the field, the Ducks called two timeouts — though those stoppages didn’t allow Herbert to return at that point.
“The wrong personnel was in, and we got personnel straightened out, they weren’t quite sure as to who was going to do what,” Cristobal said. “As a coaching staff, that’s on us. … Trying to make pieces work for a certain play.”
But it didn’t work, with CJ Verdell stuffed for a 1-yard loss.
Auburn went three-and-out, but after Oregon got a quick first down, Herbert was sacked and the Ducks punted with just over 2 minutes left.
Nix threw an 11-yard TD pass to Eli Stove late in the third quarter. When the Tigers to the 1 with just under 10 minutes left in the game, Joey Gatewood — the redshirt freshman Nix beat for the starting job, came in and dove over the line for a touchdown to make it 21-20 since Auburn kicked the extra point then instead of trying for two.
Oregon: The Ducks had several chances to keep this game from being that close. Already up 7-0, Bryan Addison couldn’t pull in a catch in the back of the end zone on their second drive right before Camden Lewis missed a 20-yard field goal. There was also an exchange of 80-yard returns in the second quarter. Jevon Holland had an 81-yard punt return to the Auburn 9, setting up a chance to go up 21-3. But Herbert fumbled on the next play. Defensive end Big Kat Bryant scooped it up and ran 83 yards to the Oregon 3, though the Tigers had to settle for a field goal.
Auburn: While Nix had some mistakes, like the sidearm throw into traffic that was picked off near the Oregon 10 in the second quarter, but he made plays when the Tigers needed them. His father and high school coach, Patrick Nix, played at Auburn from 1992-95.
Both Auburn and Oregon are Top 25 teams, but the Tigers should be the higher-ranked of the two in the next poll.
Oregon is home to play Nevada on Saturday night.
Auburn plays at home Saturday night against Tulane.
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