Atlanta — The Auburn Tigers had some bad memories from their last two trips to Atlanta.
They headed home from this one feeling a whole lot better.
With a performance that didn’t earn a bunch of style points but will look awfully good on the resume, No. 9 Auburn rallied for a 21-16 victory over No. 6 Washington when Jatarvious Whitlow ran 10 yards for a touchdown with 6:15 remaining Saturday.
The Auburn defense came through at the end, preserving the win with a fierce pass rush against Jake Browning.
“We talked about overcoming adversity,” Tigers coach Gus Malzahn said. “Last season we didn’t win hardly any close games. We knew this game was going to come down to the end.”
The Tigers closed last season with back-to-back losses at Mercedes-Benz Stadium — first to Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game, then to Central Florida in the Peach Bowl.
They were facing another disappointment, trailing 16-15 after scoring a touchdown on their opening possession of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game but missing a surprise two-point conversion.
Jarrett Stidham got Auburn rolling with a 12-yard pass to Chandler Cox on third-and-9. Then, facing third-and-7 deep in Washington territory, Auburn handed off inside to Whitlow, who knocked over a Washington safety as he barreled into the end zone to cap a 10-play, 76-yard drive.
“It was an amazing feeling,” said Whitlow, part of the group trying to replace workhorse runner Kerryon Johnson, who’s now in the NFL. “I’m so grateful that the coaches have confidence in me in that situation.”
Washington drove to the Auburn 37 with plenty of time to pull off the comeback, but Myles Gaskin was thrown for a 3-yard loss and Browning was left running for his life on the Huskies’ last two offensive plays. Big Kat Bryant sacked the quarterback for another 3-yard setback, and safety Smoke Monday finished it off with a blitz that forced Browning to just fling the ball away , resulting in an intentional grounding penalty.
Stidham was 26-of-36 for 273 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown pass to Sal Cannella, who made a leaping grab in the end zone before landing flat on his back .
Browning, looking to bounce back from a disappointing junior season, completed 18 of 32 for 296 yards. He was picked off once but connected with Quinten Pounds on a 13-yard touchdown in the final minute of the first half .
“We’re not into moral victories,” Browning said. “We came here to win, and we didn’t.”
Peyton Henry put the Huskies ahead for the first time with his third field goal, a 30-yarder that clanked off the right upright but ricocheted through with 14:06 remaining.
Both teams squandered scoring chances.
Anders Carlson, taking over from older brother Daniel as Auburn’s kicker, connected on three field goals — including a 53-yarder — but missed from 33 and 54 yards.
Washington was kicking itself after coming away from a first-and-goal with no points. On third down at the 3, Browning rolled right looking to make a pitch only to be smacked by Nick Poe. The ball squirted free and Auburn’s Darrell Williams fell on it at the 20.
“That’s where we lost the game,” Browning said. “I went to pitch it. The guy put his hand out and blocked it. I’ve got to take the loss and take the field goal.”
More top 25
No. 1 Alabama 51, Louisville 14: College Football Playoff hero Tua Tagovailoa threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third in his first college start, helping top-ranked and defending national champion Alabama open the season with the rout of Louisville in Orlando, Fla.
Essentially ending the debate — at least for now — about whether he or Jalen Hurts should be the Crimson Tide’s No. 1 quarterback, Tagovailoa scored on a 9-yard run while also completing 12 of 16 passes for 227 yards without an interception.
Tagovailoa was sacked on the game’s second play, but pretty much had his way against the Louisville defense from there. Jerry Jeudy had TD receptions of 11 and 25 yards, and Josh Jacobs scored on an 18-yard run and 77-yard kickoff return for the Crimson Tide.
Jawon Pass, who’s replacing 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson for Louisville, completed 20 of 39 passes for 252 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, including TDs of 12 yards to Kemari Averett and 8 yards to Tutu Atwell.
(At) No. 2 Clemson 48, Furman 7: Freshman Trevor Lawrence threw three touchdown passes and Clemson scored on all five of his drives in the season-opening rout.
Lawrence was going 9-for-15 for 137 yards and no interceptions, and senior starter Kelly Bryant was 10 for 16 for 127 yards and a touchdown and ran five times for 44 yards and another score.
The Tigers’ front four on defense — who may all end up as NFL first-rounders— dominated Furman’s option attack. The Paladins gained just 163 yards and the one touchdown came with 1:18 left after Clemson emptied its bench on a steamy afternoon.
(At) No. 3 Georgia 45, Austin Peay 0: Jake Fromm threw two scoring passes while sharing time with freshman Justin Fields and Georgia showed off some new firepower.
Georgia flashed big-play potential, including a 59-yard touchdown pass from Fromm to Mecole Hardman and a 72-yard scoring run by Demetris Robertson, who was making his debut.
Fromm completed 12 of 16 passes for 157 yards, including a 10-yard scoring pass to Riley Ridley. Fields, one of the headliners in coach Kirby Smart’s top-ranked class of signees, made his debut on the Bulldogs’ first second-quarter possession and started the second half.
Fields completed 7 of 8 passes for 63 yards, including a 12-yard scoring pass to Isaac Nauta. Fields also had three carries for 33 yards in his first opportunity to flash his dual-threat talents. Walk-on quarterback Matthew Downing played most of the second half.
(At) No. 7 Oklahoma 63, Florida Atlantic 14: Kyler Murray, taking over for Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, passed for 209 yards and two touchdowns to lead Oklahoma.
Murray connected on 9 of 11 passes in just under one half. The first-round Major League Baseball draft pick also ran for 23 yards on four carries. It was Murray’s second college start since transferring from Texas A&M after the 2015 season.
Marquise Brown caught six passes for 133 yards and a touchdown, and Rodney Anderson rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns on just five carries. Lee Morris caught a 65-yard touchdown pass and blocked a punt for the Sooners. Oklahoma led 42-0 at halftime — the most points the Sooners have scored in a first half since 2008. Oklahoma outgained Florida Atlantic 650 yards to 324.
(At) No. 15 Southern California 43, UNLV 21: JT Daniels, the second freshman to start at quarterback in a season opener for Southern California, threw for 282 yards, and had a 43-yard touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown.
Daniels was 22-of-35, and fellow freshman St. Brown making seven receptions for 98 yards. The former Mater Dei High School teammates connected for their first college touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter, with St. Brown getting a step behind cornerback Jericho Flowers on a post route to give USC a two-possession lead over the Rebels.
Aca’Cedric Ware rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown, and Vavae Malepeai scored the first of two touchdowns on a 2-yard run late in the second quarter that gave USC a lead it would not relinquish.
(At) No. 16 TCU 55, Southern U. 7: Shawn Robinson threw three touchdown passss and ran for two more scores while playing only the first half in TCU’s opening blowout.
The Horned Frogs scored on their first six drives to take a 38-7 lead before fellow sophomore Michael Collins, a former transfer from Penn, took over after halftime.
Derius Davis caught a 12-yard scoring pass from Robinson and the true freshman later returned a punt 73 yards for a score as the Frogs won their 17th consecutive home opener under coach Gary Patterson.
Robinson completed 17 of 24 passes for 182 yards.
No. 17 West Virginia 40, Tennessee 14: Will Grier got his Heisman Trophy campaign off to an impressive start, throwing for 429 yards and five touchdowns to help West Virginia rout Tennessee in a game delayed for more than an hour at halftime due to lightning.
Grier connected on touchdown passes of 33 yards to David Sills, 28 yards to Gary Jennings, and 14 yards to Kennedy McCoy in the third quarter as the Mountaineers opened a 33-14 lead.
Grier, who grew up in the Charlotte area and once threw for 10 TD passes in a high school playoff game, was 14 of 19 for 275 yards and four TDs in the second half. Sills had seven grabs for 140 yards and two touchdowns after 18 TD receptions last season.
Tim Jordan ran for 118 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown for Tennessee, which lost in Jeremy Pruitt’s head coaching debut.
(At) No. 18 Mississippi State 63, Stephen F. Austin 6: Keytaon Thompson threw for 364 yards and five touchdowns, Mississippi State had 17 tackles for a loss and the 18th-ranked Bulldogs cruised in their opener.
Joe Moorhead won his first game as Mississippi State’s head coach, and the playbook showed some of the downfield passing prowess he’s promised over the past months. The Bulldogs had completions of 53, 84, 27 and 30 yards for touchdowns.
Thompson, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound sophomore, made his second career start. He was pressed into action after senior Nick Fitzgerald was suspended for the season opener for a “violation of team policy” that Moorhead said happened in March.
Thompson also ran for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
Mississippi State’s offense had success from the moment it stepped on the field. The first play was Thompson’s short swing pass to Kylin Hill, who went nearly untouched for a 53-yard touchdown. Later in the first quarter, Thompson found a completely uncovered Osirus Mitchell for an 84-yard touchdown, which was the longest pass completion for the Bulldogs in 14 years.
No. 22 Boise State 56, (at) Troy 20: Brett Rypien passed for 305 yards and four touchdowns, and Sean Modster had 167 yards receiving, to lead Boise State in the opening victory.
The Broncos raced to a 35-7 halftime lead over a Trojans team coming off an 11-win season, largely with the Rypien-to-Modster connection. Then, Tyler Horton and Boise State’s defense mostly took over the scoring for the second half against Troy.
The cornerback scooped-and-scored on a pair of fumbles, with returns of 55 and 11 yards. Horton, who has four defensive touchdowns, tied the FBS record for fumble returns for TDs in a game shared by four others.
Rypien passed for 276 yards and four touchdowns in the first half, with Modster easily topping his career high by the break. He had 161 receiving yards in the half against Troy. Rypien completed 20 of 28 passes and Modster did his damage on seven catches.
(At) No. 24 Oregon 58, Bowling Green 24: Justin Herbert threw for five touchdowns and ran for another score for Oregon.
Herbert completed 10 of 21 passes for 281 yards and the five passing TDs were the most for a Duck in a season-opening game. He also rushed for 41 yards.
The victory extended Oregon’s winning streak in home openers to 14.
Bowling Green, which went 2-10 last season, jumped in front 10-0 in the first quarter, but the Ducks scored 37 straight point and led 37-17 at the half
Bowling Green’s Jarret Doege threw for 252 yards and three touchdowns.