Special Teams Delivers For Tigers In Win

Auburn's special teams played a huge role in the Tigers' 55-23 win over Tennessee.

Knoxville, Tenn.--Locked in a tight game with an energized Tennessee team, Auburn was looking for something big to break open the game.

The Tigers got not one but two of those plays against the Vols with a huge punt return from Chris Davis and a kickoff return by Corey Grant on the way to a 55-23 win.

The two touchdown plays and several more big returns were enough for Auburn to break the NCAA record for average return yards. The Tigers had a 44.85-yard average on seven kick/punt returns, breaking the previous NCAA record was 41.8 yds set by Florida State vs. Virginia Tech in 1974.

Coach Gus Malzahn said there is no question the two touchdown returns were a huge part of the win.

"That was big," Malzahn said. "The punt return was a long punt return and we had really good blocking at the point of attack. Corey Grant cut it back across the field. He's got real speed. Our guys did a really good job.

"Coach (Scott) Fountain has worked extremely hard on the little things the last couple of weeks," Malzahn said. "We felt like we were close in a couple of areas. Those were two huge plays."

Tied 13-13 and with the defense stepping up to make a big stop on the Tennessee offense, Davis circled under a long Michael Palardy punt at his own 15-yard line looking to make something happen. Setting up Auburn's first touchdown of the day with a 42-yard return, Davis dropped the second attempt but gathered it in quickly and immediately started up field. Hitting the Auburn sidelines he got a convoy of blockers on the way to the score. It proved to be a huge momentum play for the Tigers, he pointed out.

"It feels good to take one to the house," Davis said. "That's something I take pride in, punt returns. I owe it to the 10 guys up front blocking for me. We worked on it all week, crunch technique, and I give the credit to them.

"I just had to be aggressive," he added. "Punt returners are going to drop the ball. That happens in the league. You pick it up and you still have a chance to take it to the house. That's that I did tonight."

Before Grant's touchdown return to open the second half, the kickoff return team would make another big play. Leading 27-13 with just over one minute left in the first half, Auburn made an ill-advised decision to throw the ball, resulting in an interception for the Vols that was returned for a score.

With the lead down to just a touchdown and the home crowd back in the game, Tre Mason fielded the kick at his own 21 and broke loose for a 34-yard return to the Tennessee 45-yard line. Two plays later the Tigers were in the end zone and order was restored.

That was another nail in the coffin for Tennessee, but the door was shut on the opening play of the second half. Fielding the opening kickoff at the 10, Grant started up the field before crossing against the grain. Hitting the sidelines the speedster was gone as he cruised across with Auburn's second touchdown return of the day, a first in school history.

"That was a big focus this week, getting better on special teams," Grant said. "We took that to heart. We just tried to get better and things turned out for the best.

"It was just a great return," he added. "The guys did their job blocking and I saw a cutback and decided to take that chance. It turned out to be a good return."

While the running day for Nick Marshall and the 444 net rushing yards will get much of the attention, it was a huge special teams day that set the tone for the Tigers and Davis said that's something they expect every week.

"We work hard at all three phases of the game and we take pride in special teams here," Davis said. "We try to tell the freshmen when they come in that we need them to come in and play a huge part on special teams. As far as the touchdowns we owe that to all 10 guys blocking for us on kick and punt return."

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