ATLANTA — Consider the curse lifted.
No. 9 Auburn went back to Mercedes-Benz Stadium fresh off back-to-back losses to close out the 2017 season and came away with a 21-16 win over No. 6 Washington.
The victory snaps a number of program losing streaks — two in a row in Atlanta (to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and Central Florida in the Peach Bowl), six in a row against ranked teams to open a season, and eight in a row against ranked teams outside the confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Saturday marked Auburn’s first win over a ranked opponent away from home since a Nov. 1, 2014 victory at Ole Miss. It marked the Tigers’ first win over a ranked opponent to open a season since a 7-0 victory over No. 8 Tennessee in 1957.
"We've been talking about overcoming adversity," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "You look at last season, we didn't win hardly any, if any, close games, and we knew this was going to be a close game. We knew it would come down to the end."
Auburn led much of the way after an early touchdown and three Anders Carlson field goals for a 15-6 lead. But Washington rebounded with a touchdown and a 30-yard Peyton Henry field goal for a 16-15 lead with 14:06 to play.
The Tigers rallied, however, with a 10-play, 76-yard drive midway through the fourth quarter for the winning touchdown. Jatarvious Whitlow covered the final 10 yards with a bull rush up the middle.
That play came on third-and-seven. Also in the drive, Jarrett Stidham completed a 12-yard pass to Chandler Cox on third-and-nine.
"You know, I think when you look at the last few times we came here, we just didn't execute, and we just didn't win," said Stidham, who completed 26 of 36 passes for 273 yards. "We don't care if it's here or if it's in a parking lot. We just want to play football, and we just want to find a way to win."
Auburn's defense gave up 296 passing yards to Washington quarterback Jake Browning, but in the third quarter, the Tigers didn't give up a point when the Huskies drove to the AU 3 and 8, respectively. Even on the go-ahead field goal drive, Washington had first-and-goal at the AU 10 before getting stifled.
"Everybody came in and was focused," Auburn linebacker Darrell Williams said. "It was just different. Everybody had a goal, and we all came together and we achieved it. We just came together and said we won't let that happen again, and that's what happened."
Malzahn said afterward there are things that need improvement, and that showed with the 12 Auburn penalties for 112 yards. That's the most penalties for the Tigers since it committed 13 in 2014.
"Having some penalties is really uncharacteristic," Malzahn said. "We've got a lot of things that we can correct.
"But I'm just proud of our team that the way that we won — and sometimes it's how you win a game that can help you later in the season. So real proud of our guys."