In his debut as head football coach of the Tigers, Auburn showed the mental toughness to hang tough for four quarters and pulled out a hard-fought 31-24 football victory over visiting Washington State on Saturday. Last season, all too often the Tigers folded like a lawn chair when pressure was applied.
In a game full of big plays on offense, defense and special teams, the Tigers won the contest by not panicking when things went awry.
"It was a fun game with a lot of ups and downs," said junior center Reese Dismukes. "I thought we really dealt with adversity well and it is awesome that we came out with a win.
"It was great to get that bad taste out of our month from last year and know we can actually do it," Dismukes added.
Malzahn said the game will provide a lot of teaching moments for his football team and Dismukes agreed. "When you look at the film you usually find that some things aren't as good as they seemed and some things aren't as bad, but I know we have a lot of work to do to get better."
Gus Malzahn is greeted on his first Tiger Walk as head coach of the Tigers.
Auburn's new head coach said, "I am very proud of the team. They found a way to win. I have been preaching, ever since we've been here, how we are going together to handle adversity--how we are going to stick together.
"I really felt there was a lot of adversity out there," he noted. "We made a lot of mistakes--some of the critical--but our guys found a way to overcome them.
"I am very proud of our defense," he added. "They got us three turnovers and they got us two fourth down stops late."
Montravius Adams makes his first college sack.
The Tigers overcame an aerial onslaught from the Cougars, who completed 35 of 65 passes for 344 yards and one TD.
In contrast, Auburn's passing game was shaky with new QB Nick Marshall showing signs of nerves at times and also being plagued by several drops. He threw just 19 times and completed 10 for 99 yards.
Auburn did most of its offensive damage on the ground. Tailback Corey Grant gained 146 yards on nine carries, Tre Mason added 73 more on 15 runs and Cameron Artis-Payne's Auburn debut produced 52 yards on 10 carries.
Although the Tigers were out-gained they won the turnover battle 3-1 and also won the special teams battle with three Cody Parkey field goals, a touchdown return by Mason and a two-point conversion run by Ryan White.
Star Of the Game--Offensive Variety: Grant, a speedy junior the former coaching staff rarely let play, showed what they were missing with his big night.
Star of the Game--Defensive Variety: Robenson Therezie, a speedy junior the former coaching staff rarely let play, showed what they were missing with his big night. He intercepted two passes and tied for second on the team in tackles with six solos and one assist starting at the "star" rover position in place of Justin Garrett, who was dressed out but held out with a foot issue.
Robenson Therezie makes his first interception.
Star of the Game--Special Teams Variety: Mason's 100-yard return is worthy of the honor although Parkey's field goal kicking deserves honorable mention.
Newcomer Of the Night: Freshman defensive tackle made two solo tackles, two assists with sack and gave the Tigers consistent inside pressure as a reserve. "I had a lot of fun out there," he said.
Tiger Touchdowns/Field Goals, Part 1:
*Mason's second-effort run from four yards out enabled the Tigers to take an 8-7 lead with 2:26 left in the first quarter after Auburn moved 28 yards following an interception by Therezie, who made his first college start. The Tigers trumped a 12-play, 75-yard scoring drive for the Cougars with Mason's TD and two-point run by PAT holder Ryan White when the Tigers lined up in a wide spread formation. (White, a reserve cornerback, played quarterback in high school.)
*Touchdown two for the Tigers was a 100-yard kickoff return for Tre Mason, his first since the opening game of the 2011 season vs. Utah State. That answered a 67-yard scoring drive from the visitors putting the Tigers on Top 15-14. (Mason told special teams coach Scott Fountain in pre-game that he planned to take one the distance.)
*Following a quick-strike 75-yard TD drive by the Cougars, Auburn answered on the next play from scrimmage as Grant raced 75 yards down the left sideline for a score to put the Tigers up 22-21 with 6:06 left in the second quarter.
*Washington State's decision to gamble on fourth down in its own territory to set up the final points of the half, a 47-yard field goal by Parkey, who was wide left earlier on a 50-yard try. The Tigers took a 25-21 lead into the locker room at intermission.
*Auburn led at the break despite being out-gained 283-178. The Cougars kept the ball for 48 plays to 29 for the Tigers, who rushed for 178 yards on 29 carries. QB Nick Marshall hit just 2-8 passes for 20 yards.
*Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday hit 24-36 passes in the first half for 264 yards and one TD. and was intercepted by Therezie and Josh Holsey.
Tiger Touchdowns/Field Goals, Part, 2:
*The Tigers scored first in the third period on a 26-yard field goal after having a TD run called back on a QB keeper when Artis-Payne was called for holding in the end zone. Parkey's second successful field goal put the Tigers head 28-21 with 6:51 left in the quarter.
*Working with a short field after Parkey's kickoff went out of bounds, the Cougars cut the lead to 28-24 with a 43-yard field goal by Andrew Furney with 4:18 in the third quarter.
*Parkey increased the lead back to seven points by drilling a 42-yard field goal with 9:07 to cap a drive that covered 61 yards and 12 plays.
The defense then stepped up and saved the day with a pair of fourth down stops. The second came with the Cougars in great field position on fourth down and five at the Auburn 27 with 2:09 left after Mason had fumbled the football at the 50-yard line after Therezie's interception in the end zone had ended WSU's threat to tie the game.
Top Tackers: Jonathon Mincy led the Tigers with eight solo stops while Therezie and Ryan Smith had six solos and an assist.
From the Paloose: Washington State coach Mike Leach said after the game he believes his Cougars are a better team than they were last year and he said the same is true of the Tigers.
Up Next: The Tigers return to Jordan-Hare Stadium for game two vs. Malzahn's 2012 team, the Arkansas State Red Wolves. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. CDT and the game will be televised on Fox Sports Net. Malzahn said his Tigers will need to improve next week if they want to improve their record to 2-0.