Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers didn’t exactly put on an aerial circus for Homecoming, but managed to throw for four touchdowns as they picked up their fourth victory of the season on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Although the quarterbacks had big plays, the highlights of the contest were aggressive play from the defense and three touchdowns by senior Quan Bray.
Bray’s first score came on a perfectly thrown deep sideline route by Marshall with 34 seconds left in the first half to give the Tigers a 24-3 lead at intermission and also give the Tigers what Coach Gus Malzahn called “a little breathing room.”
The senior’s second score came on a 44-yard play when Marshall scrambled away from a rush and heaved the ball high into the end zone where Bray out-jumped a Louisiana Tech defender for the score to put the Tigers up 31-10 with 14:24 left in the game.
“For some reason I felt like Nick was going to be scrambling,” Bray said. “Once I looked back I saw him going in circles. Once I saw that my eyes lit up. Once he threw the ball I just went up for it. You have to high-point the ball.”
A little more than a minute later after a defensive stand, Bray raced 76 yards with a punt return, putting the Tigers up by four touchdowns and putting away the visitors from Conference USA, who fell to 2-3 with the loss.
Bray was untouched on the punt return and said his return team set up the play. “I know I have got teammates that will give it their all for me out there and I have to do is try to get outside,” he said.
Marshall completed 10-17 for 166 yards and Johnson hit 4-5 passes for 53 yards. The Tigers finished with 219 passing yards and 254 on the ground.
Nick Marshall runs for yardage vs. the Bulldogs.
Cameron Artis-Payne carried the football 22 times for 116 yards and one score while Marshall finished with 105 yards on 13 runs.
Tech was limited to 105 rushing yards on 33 carries and QB Cody Sokol was 20-35 passes for 216 yards with one interception and no touchdowns.
“The positives in the game were we were plus two in turnovers and I don’t believe we turned over the ball on offense, which is always big,” Malzahn said. “We had another big punt return, which has been a big thing for us in the first three games and it was again today.
“I think our defense did a very good job, especially in the first half when the offense was sputtering a little bit early,” the Auburn coach added.
“Overall, we are extremely happy that we won,” Malzahn said. “We are 4-0 and we have played some good teams, and I think we are in a good spot now as we are fixing to enter the grind.”
Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz said he liked the effort from his Bulldogs. “We came in here to compete,” he said. “I thought our players did that. It is unfortunate that we made some of the mistakes that we did. We made some of the same mistakes we made last week.”
The bad news for the Tigers on their Homecoming was that both starting linebackers, Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy, went down with injuries. The Tigers also lost starting left offensive tackle Patrick Miller. Malzahn said he doesn’t know how serious their injuries are.
Auburn’s first points were set up by the defense. Blitzing linebacker Frost deflected Sokol’s pass that was intercepted by 306-pound tackle Montravius Adams, who rumbled 37 yards down the sideline before being tackled at the five-yard line.
“I thought I was going to score on the play,” said Adams, who pointed out that it was the first time he had ever intercepted a pass in a football game at any level.
On the next play Artis-Payne scored without any pressure on a run at right tackle putting the Tigers up 7-0 with 8:28 left in the opening quarter.
The Tigers had another scoring opportunity in the first quarter, but Daniel Carlson’s 41-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.
Carlson was good on his next chance, hitting a 25-yard field goal with 11:49 remaining in the second quarter to cap a drive that covered 38 yards on seven plays to put the Tigers up 10-0.
Tech’s first scoring opportunity came on a 37-yard field goal try by Jonathan Barnes with 5:48 left before halftime, but the kick was wide right.
Auburn took possession at its 20 and marched 80 yards for a touchdown to move ahead 17-0 with 1:36 left before intermission. The score came on an acrobatic catch at the goal line by wide receiver Duke Williams, who made a one-handed grab on Marshall’s pass that was deflected by Tony Johnson.
The second turnover of the first half, a fumble recovery by Adams at the Tech 37, allowed Auburn to score with 34 seconds left in the period. Three plays later Marshall connected with Bray on a perfectly thrown 37-yard sideline route for the touchdown to make the score 24-0.
Using their hurry-up attack the Bulldogs moved 56 yards to get on the scoreboard with a 25-yard field goal by Barnes as timed expired in the half to cut the lead to 24-3.
Louisiana Tech was the first to score in the second half. The Bulldogs moved 49 yards on five plays to cut the margin to 24-10 on a one-yard run by Kenneth Dixon with 6:54 in the third quarter.
Auburn pushed the lead back to 21 points with 14:24 left in the final quarter when Marshall scrambled out of the pocket and threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Bray to put the Tigers on top 31-10.
Just more than a minute later Bray returned a punt 76 yards to put the Tigers ahead 38-10. It was his second punt return for a score this season.
Tech answered Auburn’s touchdown with one of its own, moving 62 yards on six plays. Dixon raced around left end for the final nine yards with 10:27 left.
Auburn stretched the lead to 45-17 with 7:53 by moving 75 yards on six plays. Tight end C.J. Uzomah scored on a 15-yard pass from backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson.
The Tigers, 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the SEC, return to league play next Saturday with a 6 p.m. home game vs. LSU. “Obviously, we have a tough game next week at home so we just need to keep improving,” Malzahn said. “We are 4-0 though so that’s a good thing.”
Worth Noting, Part 1: Auburn extended its home field winning streak vs. non-conference foes to 25 and won for the 300th time in the 75-year history of Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Despite being injured McKinzy led the Tigers in tackles with five solos and four assists. Jonathon Mincy added six solos and three assists while freshman linebacker Tre Williams picked up four solo tackles and three assists in his first extended playing time.