Auburn, Ala.--While Duke Williams and Sammie Coates have deservingly received much of the attention among the Auburn receiving corps, Melvin Ray was ready Saturday to do his part in Auburn’s 45-21 season-opening win over Arkansas.
The former professional baseball player made an Arkansas defender miss and took a pass from Jeremy Johnson 49 yards down the sideline for Auburn’s first touchdown of the season.
He added a key third-down reception in the third quarter to spark a drive that broke a 21-21 halftime score to put Auburn ahead for good. The 6-3, 207-pound junior used his leaping ability to get up for both receptions.
“The touchdown pass was a designed play for Jeremy to run or throw,” he said. “He read the coverage well and I found an open spot. He delivered it and I was able to make one man miss and I was down the sideline,” Ray described the play.
The third quarter catch on third-and-three, Ray went high and tipped the high thrown from Nick Marshall enough to slow it down where he could pull it in for a 28-yard gain to the Arkansas 32. The Tigers scored three plays later to take the lead for good.
“We know our quarterbacks aren’t going always going to make the best throw in the world,” Ray said. “We have big bodies and we have to go up and get the football to help them out.”
Ray’s effort was praised by Coach Gus Malzahn who said the junior had an excellent fall camp.
“I worked really hard this offseason and in camp and it really paid off tonight,” said Ray, who caught his first career touchdown pass in Auburn’s National Championship Game to end the 2013 season.
“Touchdowns are nice, but I’m just trying to do my best when they call my number,” he pointed out.
Ray finished with 77 yards, including the touchdown, on his two catches.
In other news and notes:
*Auburn’s 595 total yards (302 rushing, 293 passing) are the sixth-most for the Tigers against an SEC opponent. It was also the third-most for Auburn in a season-opener and the most since 608 total yards (367 rushing, 241 passing) against Arkansas State in the 2010 season-opener.
*Auburn’s 228 total yards (186 passing, 42 rushing) in the first quarter were the Tigers’ first 200-yard quarter since the third quarter vs. Missouri last season in the SEC championship game (212 rushing, 8 passing).
*Redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson’s first kickoff was four yards deep and returned to the 15-yard line. He connected on his first extra point following Auburn’s opening touchdown drive and added four more extra points.
Carlson’s first punt came in the early in the second quarter was a booming 62-yarder that was returned only four yards. He had chance to add a field goal on the final play of the first half, but hit the right upright from 42 yards out as the half ended at 21-21.
Carlson’s had another opportunity and nailed a 45-yard field goal with 9:55 remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Tigers a 38-21 lead, the last play before the game was delayed 88 minutes by lightning in the area. Carlson’s 62-yard punt in the second quarter was the longest Auburn punt since a 71-yarder by Kody Bliss vs. Tulane in 2006.
*Johnathon Mincy, who was punished for an off-field issue by not being allowed to start, entered the game on Auburn’s second defensive series and made a tackle on his first snap.
*The Tigers improved to 97-15-3 in openers played in Auburn following Saturday’s victory over Arkansas. Auburn now leads the series against the Razorbacks 13-10-1 and is 6-5-1 against Arkansas in Auburn.
*Former and Philip Lutzenkirchen was recognized prior to Saturday’s game. Auburn’s all-time leader in touchdown receptions for a tight end who finished his career in 2012, Lutzenkirchen was killed in automobile accident in June.
*There are seven graduates on the Auburn roster: Jonathon Mincy (public administration); Shon Coleman (public administration); Forrest Hill (public administration); LaDarius Owens (communication); Chad Slade (sociology); and Jermaine Whitehead (accounting).
*Nova’s pre-game flight ended without the veteran golden eagle circling the stadium. Instead, Nova went about way around one side narrowly above the lower bowl before trainers with the food sprinted to mid-field and got Nova to land where his food lure was waiting.