BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Jeremy Johnson came off the bench to run and pass for a touchdown, lifting Auburn to a 31-10 victory over Memphis on Wednesday in the Birmingham Bowl.
Johnson sparked a sputtering offense that scored three touchdowns in a five-minute span starting late in the third quarter. Auburn (7-6) avoided the first losing season of Gus Malzahn's 11-year college coaching career.
A defense without a coordinator didn't allow an offensive touchdown for Memphis (9-4) and star quarterback Paxton Lynch.
Johnson gave Auburn a 17-10 lead with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jason Smith. He ran 17 yards on his second play from scrimmage and opened the fourth quarter with a 5-yard touchdown run on his third.
Marcus Davis set up two of the touchdowns with punt returns of 28 and 56 yards.
Lynch could never get untracked in what might be the final college game for the projected top-five NFL draft pick.
Game MVP Jovon Robinson effectively put the game away with a 4-yard touchdown set up by Davis's 56-yard return down to the 6 early in the fourth. He finished with 126 yards on 27 carries and also smashed his way to a fourth-down conversion to set up Johnson's touchdown pass.
Lynch never got going and Memphis was running the ball down three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
He finished 16-of-37 passing for 108 yards -- his lowest total since the opener against Missouri State -- with an interception in the end zone off a deflected pass. Led by interim coach Darrell Dickey, Memphis had been gunning for a program first: back-to-back 10-win seasons.
Memphis had halted a three-game losing streak after briefly climbing into the playoff conversation with a 63-0 romp over SMU in the regular-season finale when Lynch fired seven first-half touchdown passes.
Auburn outgained Memphis 402-205 in total yards in the first game since defensive coordinator Will Muschamp left to become South Carolina's head coach. A defense that struggled much of the season played perhaps its best game.
Malzahn announced before the game that Sean White, not Johnson, would start the game. White was intercepted twice and Reggis Ball returned the second 53 yards for touchdown to tie the game at 10-10 late in the first half.
Johnson made his snaps count, including a handoff for Robinson's fourth-quarter touchdown. He opened the season as a potential Heisman Trophy contender, was benched and reclaimed the job when White sustained a knee injury. He ran for 26 yards on three carries but only attempted one pass.
White was 8 of 13 for 103 yards.
Memphis had three interceptions in the first half to wipe out a 10-0 deficit and forge a halftime tie.
Elliott's field goal came after Smith was picked off on a trick play. Then Ball swiped White's fourth-down pass in the backfield with nothing but green in front of him.