Coach Gus Malzahn's team ended the nation's second-longest winning streak at nine as he avoided the potential embarrassment of losing to his former team and ruining Auburn's perfect record vs. teams from the Sun Belt, which is now 18-0 as Auburn improved to 2-0 for the season.
For a second straight week it was the ground attack that carried the offense. Auburn rushed for 301 yards on 50 carries with Cameron Artis-Payne netting 102 yards on 19 carries. Tre Mason finished with 99 yards on 14 runs, QB Nick Marshall netted 53 yards on eight carries and Corey Grant chipped in with 40 yards on seven runs.
"We have a lot of areas we can improve on, but overall I thought we did a better job of execution going from game one to game two," said Grant, who scored Auburn's second TD of the night on a 17-yard run.
Auburn only out-gained the defending Sun Belt champions 468-422 in total offense, but was able to bend but not break defensively on Saturday night. The Tigers now have played six consecutive quarters without allowing a touchdown. Helping the cause vs. ASU was stopping the visitors three times on fourth down plays when the Red Wolves had moved into scoring territory.
Unlike last week when the Tigers came up with three interceptions, the defense wasn't able to force a pick, but the Tigers managed to do a solid job of containing ASU's running backs while at the same time getting a decent amount of pressure on quarterback Adam Kennedy, who managed to hit 29-42 passes for 272 yards.
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall was less accurate, but more productive as two of his 10 completions resulted in touchdowns even though he had just 147 passing yards as a crowd of 83,246 watched the action.
"I think I took a step forward," the juco transfer QB said. "This game I felt more confident and I was more accurate on my throws. The line did a good job of blocking and I was able to sit back and make some throws."
ASU had four players rush for 100 yards in the opener vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, but against the Tigers the visitors netted 150 yards as a group with 74 coming on scrambles by the quarterback.
ASU's quarterback noted that Auburn was physical on defense and Kennedy was impressed with the job the Tigers did against the Red Wolves' running attack. "I think it was their defensive line," Kennedy said. "I think their line is big and fast. They were plugging up holes and creating lanes for their linebackers to shoot through.
"Obviously, after what we did last week, I am sure they made it a priority to stop the run, and they did so," the transfer from Utah State added.
The major negative on the night for Auburn was being penalized nine times for 91 yards, including a high hit by linebacker Kris Frost on the ASU quarterback that resulted in Frost being ejected from the game.
"It was pretty emotional," Malzahn said of coaching against his former team. "It was a pretty interesting deal when you coach against a team that you're close to players. They have some great kids over there, great competitors. It was interesting, but it was good to see those guys. I wished them nothing but the best going forward."
First Half: Advantage Tigers
The Auburn defense allowed the Red Wolves 200 yards in the first two periods, but managed to keep the visitors out of the end zone, extending a streak to four quarters of not allowing a touchdown.
It didn't take the home team long to take the lead. Auburn took the opening kickoff and moved the football 67 yards in 10 plays.
Freshman wide receiver Marcus Davis, making his first collegiate catch, put the Tigers up 7-0 on an 18-yard pass from Marshall.
The quarterback said he thought the freshman made a great catch on his pass. "It felt to score," said Davis, who played quarterback in high school. "I made the play when it presented itself.
"I knew I was one of the first two reads so I ran my route and the ball was there right on time," Davis said.
The visitors responded with a 14-play drive, but had to settle for a 34-yard field goal by Brian Davis with 6:54 left in the first period.
The Tigers immediately stretched the lead to 14-3 with an eight-play march that covered 85 yards. Corey Grant was untouched on a 17-yard run at right end for the score.
Arkansas enjoyed an 18:33 to 11:27 advantage in time of possession in the opening half, but the Red Wolves were unable to convert two fourth down plays in scoring territory.
Freshman defensive end Elijah Daniel pressures quarterback Adam Kennedy. The Tigers finished the night with 13 tackles for lost yardage.
The first big stop by the Tigers was a fourth and one at the Auburn 20 late in the opening quarter. Tailback David Oku was swarmed before could get back to the line of scrimmage with Chris Davis and freshman Daniel credited with the stop.
The second came on fourth down and six at the Auburn 25 in the second period. Good coverage led to an incomplete pass in the end zone by quarterback Kennedy, who was pressured by end LaDarius Owens, who finished the game with eight tackles, two behind team leader Chris Davis.
After the teams exchanged punts the Tigers scored on a 68-yard pass play from Marshall to Sammie Coates, who beat single coverage on a deep throw over the middle that hit the sophomore in stride. That put the Tigers on top 21-3 with 2:20 left before intermission.
"It was time for me to make a big play," Coates said. "Nick threw me a good ball."
Sammie Coates is on the way to the end zone for six points.
The Tigers, who kept the football for 33 plays in the half, gained 282 yards on 10 fewer plays than the Red Wolves ran in the opening two periods.
Second Half: Slow Start, Stronger Finish
Despite a sluggish beginning to the third quarter, the Tigers were able to outscore the Red Wolves 7-6 in the period.
The visitors took the second half kickoff and drove 71 yards on 11 plays before settling for a 21-yard field goal after the Tigers' defense stiffened when ASU moved to a first down at the AU 11.
The next ASU field goal was a gift when Marshall dropped back to pass on the following series and had the football slip from his grasp giving the visitors great field position at the AU 17.
The Tigers trumped those two scoring possessions when Mason put the Tigers up 28-9 from 11 yards out with 1:14 left in the third quarter to cap an eight-play drive that covered 54 yards.
Auburn won the fourth quarter and managed to play subs in the later half of the period, including former cancer patient Shon Coleman, who saw action at left offensive tackle.
Auburn's scores came on a 35-yard field goal by Cody Parkey with 8:46 left and a 12-yard run by Artis-Payne left with Jonathan Wallace directing the offense in front of the No. 2 offensive line. Artis-Payne's run capped a 55-yard drive that covered seven plays to end the scoring with 1:43 to play.
Up Next: Mississippi State will travel to Jordan-Hare Stadium in the SEC opener for both teams. The game time is 6 p.m. and it will be televised on ESPN2.