Montavious Atkinson (above) opened the game in the starting lineup.
Auburn, Ala.--Montavious Atkinson knew since early in the week that he would get the start at outside linebacker against Vanderbilt after an injury the previous week at Ole Miss to starter Tre Williams.
He responded well with three solo tackles and two assists in Auburn’s 23-16 win over the Commodores. Included was one stop for a loss of four yards.
A converted safety who made the move after his freshman season, the athletic 6-1, 211-pound sophomore from Fairburn, Ga., was pleased with his effort.
“My first start, it felt great,” Atkinson said. “I felt like I did what I needed to. I feel like I played well. It had to get adjusted a little bit, then the game slowed down.”
Vandy came out throwing much more than normal and piled up 221 yards passing from Kyle Shurmur, who had never thrown over 30 passes in a game. He was 24 of 36 against Tigers with a touchdown and a costly interception late in the game. Shurmur had never completed more than 18 passes in a game.
“We didn’t expect them to throw that much,” Atkinson admitted. “Basically, we prepared for the run all week in practice.
Starting inside linebacker DeShaun Davis was ejected from the game in the first quarter and it made an impact on the Auburn defense. Illinois transfer T.J. Neal had to step in after little playing time this year. He finished with nine tackles, including 1.5 for losses of three yards.
“Every time someone goes out of the game like that, it just gets us krunked and hyped up,” Atkinson pointed out. “It makes us want to play for each other even more. It is a next man up mentality. Number 17 (Neal) really did that.”
Atkinson admits he didn’t understand the targeting call on Davis, who did not hit the Vandy receiver in the helmet, but in the chest. “I thought targeting was helmet to helmet,” he said. “I didn’t know it was the crown of the helmet anywhere.”
Another play that confused Atkinson was when a Vandy defender timed his jump over the line of scrimmage to block a Daniel Carlson field goal attempt.
“I didn’t know you could do that,” he said. “I thought it had been banned a long time ago. I’m just glad the defense kept them from scoring and the end and that I was able to contribute today as a starter.”
In other news and notes:
*Junior John Franklin made his first start as Auburn’s quarterback. He is the fourth different starting quarterback for Auburn with Malzahn as head coach. All four have made their starting debuts at home.
*Sophomore Sean White took over at quarterback to start the second half and went 5-for-5 for 54 yards on Auburn’s first possession. White finished 10-of-13 for 106 yards and a touchdown.
*Sophomore running back Kamryn Pettway surpassed the 1,000-yard career rushing mark in the third quarter. He now has 1,106 yards for the season. Pettway is the 14th 1,000-yard rusher under Malzahn in 11 years as a head coach or coordinator, and he has had at least one each season.
*Pettway finished against Vanderbilt with 173 yards rushing, his seventh time in eight games played this season to top the 100-yard mark. Pettway became Auburn’s first player since Bo Jackson in 1985 with four straight games of 150-plus yards.
*Kerryon Johnson’s touchdown run in the first quarter was his ninth of the season and 12th of his career.
*Redshirt freshman wide receiver Darius Slayton caught his first collegiate touchdown pass in the third quarter, a 21-yard reception from White.
*Sophomore fullback Chandler Cox’s 15-yard reception in the third quarter was a career-long (His previous long was 10 yards, twice).
*Senior defensive back Josh Holsey had his fourth career interception late in the fourth quarter. It’s his second-straight game with an interception.
*Sophomore LB Darrell Williams had a career-high 11 tackles (His previous high was six, last vs. Arkansas State).
*Senior linebacker T.J. Neal had his most tackles in an Auburn uniform with nine against Vandy. (His career high was 17 vs. Northwestern in 2015 while playing at Illinois).
*Junior defensive end Carl Lawson had a sack in the fourth quarter, bringing his season total to 8.5 and his career total to 13.5. Lawson needs one more full sack to enter the Auburn single-season top 10.
*Junior defensive back Tray Matthews had seven tackles, moving him over 100 for his two-year Auburn career.
*As a team, Auburn had six tackles for loss, giving the Tigers 56 for the year in nine games. That eclipses the Tigers’ season total of 54 tackles for losses in 13 games last season.
*In the first quarter Vandy’s offense outgained Auburn 94 to 70 yards. The Tigers attempted only one pass that was incomplete with Franklin at quarterback.
It got worse for the Tigers in the second quarter when they picked up on 54 yards to 112 to Vandy. Franklin completed two short passes for nine yards in the half.
*Auburn had the ball only 9:23 to 20:37 for the Commodores in the opening half with possession of only 4:04 in the second quarter. Franklin’s only had two completions in four attempts were for nine yards during his first-half action.
*Auburn captains for the eighth time were Montravious Adams, Marcus Davis, Carl Lawson and Alex Kozan.