Many of the contributors to the special teams' success were not starters for the Tigers last year.
True freshman Tre Mason returned a kickoff 97 yards for Auburn's second touchdown. Sophomore placekicker Cody Parkey boomed several kickoffs into the end zone and senior Chandler Brooks executed a perfect onsides kick caught on one bounce by Emory Blake to give Auburn its only hope of coming back for the final seconds' win.
Parkey drilled one kickoff that bounced off the cross bar into the bleachers and knocked his last kick all the way out of the end zone to back Utah State up to the Aggies' 20 with only seconds remaining after Auburn went ahead.
The Under Armor High School All-American out of Jupiter Florida saw limited action as a true freshman behind Auburn's all-time leading scorer Wes Byrum during Auburn's 14-0 perfect season in 2010.
"Injuries were holding me back last year," Parkey said of the season when he had perhaps been counted on for kickoff duties. "I really worked hard in the weight room and Coach (Kevin) Yoxall worked on getting me stronger for this year," Parkey says.
"I've been working on really exploding the football," he adds. "When I'm getting touchbacks, most everybody on our kickoff team is either a starter on offense or defense, so that is less they have to run and more that they can hustle on offense and defense. I'm just trying to do my part."
Parkey says his kick through the goal post Saturday is a first for him. He adds coaches were "raving" during the whole camp, telling him his kickoffs could help win some games.
"Research shows teams only have a 10 percent chance of scoring after a touchback," Parkey says.
Parkey admits he was ready for a late field attempt if needed to tie the game and send it to overtime. But Auburn's late touchdown eliminated that need.
"I was excited about an opportunity to tie or win a game with a field goal in my first game as a starter," he says. "But when we got the touchdown for the ‘W' that was for the best."
Parkey was thrilled for his fellow kicker Brooks who perfectly executed the onsides kick that led to the game-winning touchdown.
"He's a senior who was getting into his first game and he executed the play perfectly," Parkey points out. "I couldn't be more proud for him."
In other news and news:
*Eleven players made their first start for Auburn on Saturday. Six were on offense: quarterback Barrett Trotter, running back Anthony Morgan, left guard Jared Cooper, center Reese Dismukes and right tackle Chad Slade. On defense, the first-time starters were: cornerback Chris Davis, safety Demetruce McNeal , linebacker Jake Holland and tackles Jeffrey Whitaker and Kenneth Carter.
*Twenty-one players saw their first action for the Tigers against the Aggies. Those included eight redshirt freshman and 13 true freshmen. Redshirt freshmen seeing action were: defensive end Justin Delaine, offensive linemen Tunde Fariyike, Erick Mack and Chad Slade, defensive back Trent Fisher, cornerback Jonathan Mincy, running back Ladarious Phillips and linebacker Jawara White. True freshmen playing the first time in their Auburn career were: athletes Quan Bray and C.J. Uzomah, center Reese Dismukes, defensive backs Erique Florence, Robensen Therezie and Jermaine Whitehead, defensive linemen Devaunte Sigler, Gabe Wright and Angelo Blackson, quarterback Kiehl Frazier, tight end Brandon Fulse, linebacker Justin Garrett and running back Tre Mason.
*Emory Blake's 56-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Barrett Trotter was the ninth career touchdown catch for the junior wide receiver and the first thrown by the junior Trotter.
*Dyer's two rushing touchdowns give him seven for his career. The offensive MVP of Auburn's 2010 National Championship Game win over Oregon as a true freshman, Dyer scored his first touchdown on an 11-yard run out of the wildcat formation when he took a direct snap. His one-yard plunge with 30 seconds to play was the winning score against Utah State.
*Prior to Tre Mason's 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown Saturday, the last Auburn freshman to score a kick return touchdown was Brad Lester in 2005 against Ball State. Mason's return for six points in tied for the eighth longest in school history.
*Mason's 178 yards in kickoff returns is the third most for a game in Auburn history.
*Travante Stallworth's 39-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter was the first touchdown catch of the junior's career. Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen's 15-yard touchdown catch from Trotter late in the fourth quarter was the eighth career TD reception for the junior.
*Linebackers Jonathan Evans and Jake Holland had career highs in tackles. Evans finished with 14 stops and Holland totaled 11after recording only 12 his entire freshman season last year.