BIRMINGHAM — Jeremy Johnson and Auburn found a measure of redemption and, finally, something to celebrate in their season finale.
The Tigers' former starting quarterback came off the bench to run and pass for touchdowns and the similarly maligned defense contained Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch throughout in Auburn's 31-10 victory Wednesday in the Birmingham Bowl.
Johnson capped a disappointing season by sparking 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.
"We knew we had to start scoring touchdowns because we knew what kind of offense they were, even though the (Auburn) defense was playing great," Johnson said. "In our mind, we were just thinking about getting in the end zone."
An Auburn defense without a coordinator didn't allow an offensive touchdown for Memphis (9-4) and its star quarterback. Malzahn announced the hiring of LSU defensive coordinator Kevin Steele after the game.
"Their defense, to be quite honest, defended us better than anybody's defended us in the last two years," interim Memphis coach Darrell Dickey said.
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.
Game MVP Jovon Robinson, who is from Memphis, effectively put the game away with a 4-yard touchdown set up by Davis' 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 with an interception in the end zone off a deflected pass.
The only Memphis points in the game came on Reggis Ball's interception return and Jake Elliott's 53-yard field goal.
"That was great overall defense," Malzahn said. "We really wanted to put pressure on the quarterback.”
Auburn outgained Memphis 402-205 in total yards.
Malzahn announced before the game that Sean White, not Johnson, would start the game. White threw two interceptions, and Ball returned the second 53 yards for touchdown to tie it at 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.
"He handled himself like a champ," Malzahn said. "When he went into the game, it gave us great momentum."