Coach Pat Sullivan's Bulldogs trailed by just a point midway through the third quarter and were down by just eight points entering the final quarter before Auburn scored two final period touchdowns to pull away while improving its record to 7-4.
Sullivan, the 1971 Heisman Trophy winner at Auburn, was obviously moved by a pre-game ceremony in his honor put on by Auburn as well as a salute to the former two-time Tiger All-American quarterback by the current Auburn players, who dipped their helmets in recognition of Sullivan as he was being introduced to the crowd.
Sullivan said he appreciated the recognition, particularly with so many of his former teammates returning to be a part of it. However, he noted he was doing his best to try to help Samford spring the upset against his alma mater. He added that the late Shug Jordan, his coach at Auburn, would have expected nothing less out him. Sullivan added that he hopes that Auburn will play Samford again in the not too distant future.
For the Tigers on Saturday, Michael Dyer rushed for 157 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries during an up and down afternoon for the offense. Auburn finished the contest with 248 yards on the ground and 415 overall.
Samford rushed for 149 yards with Jeremiaha Gates gaining 119 of them on 28 carries. The Bulldogs finished with the game with 338 total yards.
Junior linebacker Daren Bates led the Tigers with 12 tackles, including eight solos and 1 1/2 tackles for lost yardage. Asked what the Tigers need to do to get better defensively, Bates said, "Keep stopping the run and get off the field on third downs. That is our main goal and, of course, making tackles and wrapping up every time."
One of the few bright spots for the Auburn defense was its play on third down. Coming into the contest opponents were converting at a 50 percent rate. Samford converted just 2-14 third down opportunities.
Quarterback Clint Moseley, who hit 13-20 passes for 167 yards and one touchdown while rushing for another, said his team's focus is turning immediately to next week's regular season home finale vs. Alabama.
Clint Moseley runs for a touchdown from 22 yards out.
"It doesn't matter if we are both winless--it's Alabama--so we are going to give it everything we have regardless of the situation," the redshirt sophomore quarterback said.
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik had praise for the visitors in general and their coach in particular. "Coach Sullivan did a great job of preparing his team," Chizik stated. "No doubt about it. It was not pretty at times as we know, but again I am going to go back to being very proud that we just got our seventh win of the season, and that was the objective today, to win the game, and we did that.
"We understand right now that we have a lot to clean up and a lot to get better at," Chizik added. "There is no question about it. We will start on that again tomorrow."
After Samford opened the game with a pair of three-and-outs on offense and the Tigers had one, Auburn scored on its second possession by moving the football 55 yards on nine plays.
The touchdown came from 32 yards out on a pass over the middle to Philip Lutzenkirchen, who was untouched on his way into the end zone. The junior tight end credited outside receiver Travante Stallworth with drawing the attention of the secondary leaving him room to operate.
The second quarter has been a troublesome period for the Tigers this season and that continued Saturday as the Bulldogs outscored the Tigers 10-7.
Samford tied the game with the help of a questionable personal foul call on linebacker Eltoro Freeman that kept a Samford drive alive. The Bulldogs took advantage of the call and scored on an eight-yard pass from Dustin Taliaferro to Kelsey Pope, who was open in the end zone on a pick play to cap a drive that covered 80 yards on 10 plays.
Auburn responded with a 10-play drive of its own after getting good field position at its own 40 when Samford's kickoff sailed out of bounds.
Onterio McCalebb wore No. 22, the jersey number of injured teammate T'Sharvan Bell, who had knee surgery this week and is out for the season. McCalebb said he did it to honor the cornerback.
The Tigers' offense was its worst enemy in the first half. Auburn's next two possessions were stopped by fumbles. Frazier lost the first one and McCalebb dropped a pitch at the Samford 45. The visitors took advantage of the gift moving 31 yards in eight plays to cut the lead to 14-10 with 2:32 left before halftime.
After two quarters the Tigers had out-gained the visitors 219-163. Moseley's statistics looked solid as he completed 10-15 passes for 131 yards, but he could have had significantly more yardage if he had not overthrown several open receivers in the first 30 minutes.
Auburn got the ball to start the third period, but could manage just one first down before punting.
Moving mostly on the ground, the Bulldogs drove 70 yards on 14 plays to cut the lead to 14-13 on a 28-yard field goal by Yaw with 7:22 left in the period.
Auburn stretched the lead to 21-13 with a drive that covered 75 yards in nine plays, but the possession was not without drama. Dyer scored from six yards out, but earlier on the drive he fumbled the ball to Samford at the 36-yard line, but on review it was overturned when it was ruled his knee had touched at the 38-yard line before he lost the ball. He also lost the ball on the TD run, but the officials ruled he had already cross the goal line before that happened.
Samford picked up another field goal with 13:22 in the fourth quarter as a fourth and one gamble at its own 40 got four yards on a running play set up the score.
Auburn didn't take long to score again as McCalebb took a short kickoff and raced 45 yards to the Samford 37. Four plays later Moseley raced into the end zone from 22 yards out on a keeper putting the Tigers up 28-16 with 11:28 left in the game.
The home team added an insurance touchdown with 2:17 left on a 10-yard run by McCalebb to cap a drive that covered 45 yards in six plays. Moseley said he was first looking to pass the ball on the play, but decided that was risky. "I was able to tuck it and make a move on that end and everybody was flowing to the boundary for the run like we knew they would. I was able to somehow get it into the end zone."
Asked how much better his Tigers will need to play next Saturday when they take on visiting Alabama, Chizik said, "Much better. We are going to have to be a much better football team. There is no question about it. We will have to unequivocally play, without a doubt, the best game of football that we have played on offense, defense and special teams."
Chizik noted the Tigers are still looking for what has proven to be an elusive strong game in all phases.
"I don't feel like we have put it all together in really any game to be honest with you," he said, noting that the special teams play has generally been consistent but not the offense or defense. "To say we have put our best game together--offense, defense and special teams--I can't recall one that I feel like we've done that in to be honest with you, and again, for us to have a chance to win this week that is what we are going to have to do. That's what we are going to go back to work on."