With the win, they avoided becoming the first defending national champion to lose its season opener since Michigan in 1998, and the first to lose to an unranked team since Notre Dame in 1978.
The Tigers were down by as many as 14 points in the first half and trailed 21-14 at halftime. They were the first defending national champs to trail at the midpoint in their season opener since 2004.
The comeback was keyed by the Tigers’ game-changing onside kick recovery with just over two minutes remaining in the game, after they had closed the gap to 38-35. Michael Dyer then scored his second touchdown of the game on a 1-yard run with 30 seconds left to put Auburn up for good.
Auburn extended its win streak to 16 games with the victory, which is the longest active win streak in the nation and third-longest in school history. Of those 16 wins during the streak, seven have been by five points or fewer.
Auburn has now won 21 of its last 26 season openers, including five straight. It is their 92nd season-opening win, one shy of the most among SEC teams, as Alabama won its 93rd on Saturday afternoon.
Quarterback Barrett Trotter, who was taking over for Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and had attempted nine passes in his collegiate career entering the game, threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns.
When Trotter threw his third touchdown of the game to make it 38-35 late in the fourth quarter, even though the Tigers still trailed, they were still nearly a lock to win. The last time Auburn lost a game when scoring at least 30 points was 1996.
Utah State outgained Auburn by nearly 100 yards, had 10 more first downs than the Tigers, and held the advantage in the time of possession, but couldn’t put it all together for the upset win.
The Aggies now fall to 0-44 against ranked teams on the road and 1-55 overall. Their only win against a ranked team came on November 2, 1991, when they defeated No. 25 Fresno State, 20-19.