Auburn, Ala.--Auburn University students are on Thanksgiving break and early during their victory over Samford the Tigers looked like they were taking time off, too. However, Coach Gus Malzahn’s football team snapped out of it and cruised to a methodical 31-7 victory over the Samford Bulldogs.In the process Auburn improved its record to 8-3 with a Senior Night victory at Jordan-Hare Stadium where senior Cameron Artis-Payne rushed for 129 yards and one touchdown.
“I love all those boys just like they are my brothers,” said Artis-Payne, who joined the group after spending two seasons in junior college. The SEC’s leading rusher noted that his teammates welcomed him with open arms and it was a big deal to win the final game for the seniors on their home field.
“When I got here they treated me like family and at Auburn family is not just something we say--it is real,” added Artis-Payne, who has 1,405 rushing yards, the fifth highest single-season total in Auburn history.
Sophomore defensive tackle Montravius Adams, who made two tackies for lost yardage, including one of Auburn’s two sacks, said he was happy to send the seniors out a winner in their home finale. “The coaches just wanted us to play for the seniors and play for each other and I tried to do that,”?he said.
Montravius Adams gets a sack for a 12-yard loss.
“I am happy to get win number eight,” Malzahn said. “I am very happy for our seniors. This senior class is a very special group. It is good to send them out on a high note playing their last game at home. Those guys have been phenomenal for our program, not just as players, but as individuals.
“It is really special for me to coach against Coach (Pat) Sullivan,” Malzahn said of Samford’s head coach, a star at Auburn from 1969-71. “He is a class act. He had his team ready to play. We knew they were going to play hard and play their guts out, and they did. It was really special to have him back and have him in our stadium.”
The Tigers continued their second half pattern of starting slowly. Asked about that Malzahn said, “They knew a couple of our plays early so we had to deal with that. We did get off to a slow start, but we did get into some rhythm in the second quarter and we are a rhythm offense so after that point we played pretty solid.
“We just got off to a slow start,” he added. “We didn’t execute as well. They knew some of the things we were doing so we have to do a better job disguising that. In that second quarter we started getting into a rhythm.”
Auburn slopped through the opening quarter, which ended 0-0 with the Tigers gaining just 33 yards of total offense on 17 plays. Samford wasn’t much better with 52 yards on 14 plays in the period.
Samford got on the scoreboard first with a drive that covered 74 yards on seven plays. The final seven came on a pass to Tony Philpot, who caught the ball in front of safety Jermaine Whitehead. That put the Bulldogs up 7-0 with 7:49 left in the half.
It also appeared to jump-start the Auburn offense, which took just three plays to tie the game. Marshall started the possession with a deep pass for 49 yards to Sammie Coates.
On second and nine at the 23 yard line, Bray scored on a speed sweep at left end to tie the game at 7-7.
After a three-and-out for the visitors the Tigers took their first lead on a 29-yard field goal to cap a drive that covered 32 yards on seven plays.
Samford got the ball back with 2:18 left, but couldn’t move. Auburn took over at its 32 with 1:23 on the clock and two timeouts.
Artis-Payne started a drive with a 12-yard run and finished it six plays later on a seven-yard run at left tackle to put the Tigers up 17-7 with 39 second left in the half. The big play of the drive was a 40-yard pass to Bray.
Halftime Numbers: Auburn held a 209-121 advantage in total yards by rushing for 114 on 27 carries and throwing for 95 as Marshall hit 4-7 passes with one interception. Artis-Payne gained 79 yards on 15 runs.
The Bulldogs ran the ball 20 times for 48 yards before intermission and hit 10-14 passes for 73 yards.
After Samford missed a field goal on its opening possession of the third quarter the Tigers put together a scoring drive that covered 80 yards on 10 plays.
Grant caught a pass in the flat and raced into the South end zone from 13 yards to put the Tigers on top 24-7 with 8:36 on the clock.
Almost exactly a quarter later the Tigers extended the lead to 31-7 on a one-yard blast up the middle by freshman Roc Thomas with 8:44 left in the game. That capped a drive that covered 65 yards on 12 plays.
Stat of the Night: Bray became the first player in Auburn history to score a touchdown with a punt return, a pass catch and a run in the same season when he produced Auburn’s first points vs. Samford on a 23-yard jet sweep around left end.
Worth Noting, Part 1: Kris Frost led all tacklers with eight solo stops and five assists while adding an interception.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Neither team put up big offensive numbers. Auburn netted 386 yards at 5.6 per play while Samford finished with 238 total yards at 3. yards per snap.
Injury Update: Wide receivers Ricardo Louis and Duke Williams were held out of the game as they heal from injuries. Malzahn said he doesn’t know how serious the injury is to defensive end Davonte Lambert, who was hurt on Auburn’s first defensive play.
Super Sully: Asking about returning to his alma mater, Samford's Pat Sullivan said, "It's always nitce to come back to this place, but it's not about me, it's about those gus and about thier opportunity to come and play in an environment like this so I was happy for them."Sullivan said he liked his team's intensity. "I couldn't be more proud of the effort he plaeyrs put into this game. That was a good football team that we played. Our guys never quit. I couldn't be more proud of them."
Up Next: The Tigers travel to Tuscaloosa next Saturday night to play Alabama at 6:45 p.m. CST.