Malzahn: Auburn finds way to win, like best recent teams

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Auburn's starting quarterback was banged up, and the star tailback went down, too. One starting linebacker was out with an injury and another was ejected early in the game for targeting.

Then the eighth-ranked Tigers had a field goal blocked.

They managed to overcome all that and beat Vanderbilt 23-16 on Saturday, reminding coach Gus Malzahn of Auburn's most successful recent teams.

''We had some guys that really stepped up and did a super job,'' Malzahn said after the game. ''In every year that we've won a lot of games, there has been a game like this where our guys found a way to win.''

The Tigers (7-2, 5-1 Southeastern Conference, No. 9 CFP) kept alive their hopes of winning the Western Division and staying in playoff contention.

With games still ahead at Georgia and at No. 1 Alabama, Auburn still controls its own destiny in the West because Texas A&M, which beat the Tigers, lost to Mississippi State.

Quarterback Sean White sat out the first half but came off the bench to lead a second-half comeback. Malzahn declined to disclose the nature of his injury but said he was hurt in a physical game against Mississippi.

The biggest question leading up to Saturday's game at Georgia is the status of tailback Kamryn Pettway, who pulled up at the end of a 60-yard run in the fourth quarter, clutching his left leg. Malzahn said the SEC's leading rusher ''obviously pulled something,'' but his status against the Bulldogs is unknown.

No. 2 rusher Kerryon Johnson is still nursing an ankle injury and Malzahn said he was ''somewhere around 80 percent'' healthy for the game with Vandy (4-5, 1-4).

Linebacker Tre' Williams missed the game with an undisclosed injury and Deshaun Davis was ejected in the first quarter. Davis will be available for the Georgia game.

Auburn's potential game-sealing field goal attempt in the final minutes was blocked by linebacker Zach Cunningham, setting up a Vandy drive into Auburn's territory. Josh Holsey picked off Kyle Shurmur's pass to end the last-minute threat.

''We learned how to fight through adversity in this game,'' safety Tray Matthews said. ''We're just growing as a team and continuing to fight through everything, all the obstacles. I'm really proud of our team.

''(The Commodores) came in and fought their butt off but we fought back.''

Auburn's recent history was built on surviving games like this. The 2013 team won the SEC title and made the national championship game with two famous plays: a tipped Hail Mary pass to beat Georgia and a 109-yard return of a missed field goal by Alabama. Cam Newton's 2010 team when Malzahn was offensive coordinator had a big comeback win in the Iron Bowl and won five games by a field goal or less.

These Tigers have an awfully long way to go to match those teams' feats, but they can win the SEC West with victories over Georgia and Alabama. Holsey likes what he sees so far from a group that has won six straight since starting 1-2.

''It's the will. It's the will of the team,'' he said. ''It's the teammates and the coaching staff. They preach this to us each and every week, that adversity's going to happen and you have to know how to overcome it.

''There's a bunch of guys on this team that have a lot of fight in them.''

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More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

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