The looks of shock seen in the closing minutes on the Auburn sideline the previous two weeks were gone and there were smiles all around as the Tigers watched the final minutes of Auburn's 45-7 victory over Vanderbilt.
"I was happy we were able to put all of those points up on the board," said senior Jeris McIntyre, who had a large role in ending the touchdown drought by scoring two, including the big one, a 31-yard play with 12:03 left in the second quarter to take the pressure and self doubt away from a struggling offense. "I hope this will give our offense confidence going into the next weeks of the season and we can score a lot more points," he said.
McIntyre caught four passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns. That helped spark an Auburn offense that totaled 483 yards, more than twice as much total yardage as the Tigers managed in games one and two combined.
That was a sight for the sore eyes of Hugh Nall, the offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, who had seen his boys give up 13 sacks and not score a TD. The Commodores never sacked either Jason Campbell or backup Josh Sullivan and both QBs had good performances.
"I think the throwing game is what broke everything open," Nall said. "Jeris McIntyre had a great game and a great run for that first touchdown. The second touchdown was an unbelievable run also. I credit him with making the play to get us going."
Tailback Ronnie Brown goes over the top for a score inn Saturday's win over Vanderbilt.
Nall said that first score helped the whole team relax and play better football. "It was like everybody could breath again," he said. "It has been a rough two weeks. We knew we had a chance to be a good team, but things weren't clicking for whatever reason.
"That Georgia Tech game, when you looked at the film when it was over, we should have had as many points and yards as we did today if we made the plays," Nall said. "We didn't for whatever reason. Today we were making plays. I thought our protection was a lot better.
"Jason had a great game throwing the ball," Nall added. "He was on time with his throws. He did a good job with his reads. I think the receivers played great and we ran the okay. Still, I would like to see the running game improve, but they were pretty much determined to stop that. That has got to improve. Everything has got to improve."
Campbell hit 12-19 passes for two scores with no interceptions. He totaled 220 yards in the air while redshirt freshman Josh Sullivan's college debut was a solid one. He hit 5-7 passes for 44 yards and led the Tigers on two scoring drives in the fourth quarter. "I was nervous my first play but after that I settled down and concentrated on my reads," Sullivan said.
Head coach Tommy Tuberville liked the 45 points, but had special praise for the defense that allowed Vandy just 221 yards while forcing three turnovers. The defense was especially tough early in the game while the Auburn offense was still spinning its wheels. "That is exactly what we needed there," Tuberville said. "It would have been disastrous if we had started slow on both sides of the ball.
"We started slow on offense again, but I think what we did--throwing the ball deep--proved the point even though we didn't catch the ball that we could back them up a little bit and that opened up the running game. Defensively, that is as good as you can play against a good offense. They were averaging a lot of points and throwing it down the field. We didn't give them time to throw the ball and we had a lot of rush out of a four-man rush. Our blitzes were also pretty good."
Vandy head coach Bobby Johnson was impressed with Auburn's defensive effort, too. "Auburn did a great job on screen plays, reverses and options and that is due to their linebackers coming up and disrupting our offense," he said.
Tiger linebacker Karlos Dansby, who was credited with six tackles and a forced fumble, said, "We were trying to make something happen on defense and we need to keep playing like that the rest of the season. We can't let up now."
Linebacker Karlos Dansby and defensive back Lamel Ages converge on a Commodore ball carrier.
Defensive tackle Demarco McNeil led Auburn with eight tackles, including one of four sacks. Reggie Torbor got two sacks to go with six tackles and freshmen Tim Duckworth and Marquies Gunn shared the other sack.
Junior tailback Ronnie Brown noted that he was saying before the game that if the Tigers could just break the ice with one touchdown good things would follow. "After the first touchdown I believe that got us back on track and everybody got the hunger to score more," he said.
The defense did its best to keep the pressure off of its uptight offense. Vanderbilt could manage only a single first down in the opening quarter.
The Tigers came out throwing, but were their own worst enemy on the opening possession with an offensive pass interference call on Courtney Taylor followed by an illegal procedure sabotaging AU's opening possession after an impressive first series by the defense.
Three Williams runs came up two yards shy of a first down on possession two. AU again appeared to shoot itself in the foot when a 80-yard Kody Bliss punt to the Vandy seven was negated by AU only having six men on the line of scrimmage. A 59-yard punt and a block in the back negated the effect of the blunder and backed Vandy up to its 30.
On possession three the Tigers put together a 15-play drive that chewed up most of the first quarter, but didn't produce any points. A 24-yard screen pass to Anthony Mix got things started and a roughing the kicker call after Philip Yost was hit following a missed 51-yard field goal attempt kept it going.
Auburn moved to first and goal at the six on a seven-yard run by Ronnie Brown. However, the drive stalled there with Brown losing three, Campbell running for three when he couldn't find a receiver and on third down he threw the ball away when he couldn't find an open receiver. John Vaughn came in for the chip shot field goal, but the kick was wide keeping the score at 0-0 but adding points to AU's frustration level.
A manly play by senior McIntyre ended the touchdown drought early in the second quarter. Catching a short pass, McIntyre ran through two tacklers and scored fromm 31 yards out. The drive covered 74 yards on just six plays, much to the delight of the Auburn crowd at Vanderbilt Stadium that might have outnumbered the Commodore partisans.
The Tigers didn't take long to score their second touchdown of the season. At the 6:27 mark Williams jumped into the end zone through a nice hole at right guard to cap an eight-play, 63-yard drive.
The defense set up the other points of the first half. Dansby's forced fumble and a recovery by Will Herring, who made his first college start at safety, gave the Tigers great field position and John Vaughn kicked a 21-yard field goal to cap a seven-play, 17-yard drive with newcomer Brandon Jacobs as the feature back. He finished the game with 68 yards on 14 carries, one behind Carnell Williams, who had 69 on 19 runs. Tre Smith ran for two TDs and netted 16 yards on four carries.
Auburn led 17-0 going into the third quarter when Vandy made its only serious offensive thrust. The Commodores moved 68 yards on five plays with a 39-yard TD pass to Erik Davis the score coming on a broken play when Jay Cutler threw a lob pass to the goal line for the score.
Auburn ended any Vandy comeback hopes a minute later as McIntyre tight-roped the sideline for a 67-yard TD pass from Campbell to make the score 24-7.
Less than three minutes later it was 31-7 as Brown powered in from the one on a drive that covered 18 yards in three plays after Torbor's sack and fumble recovery gave the Tigers great field position.
Sullivan led the Tigers to a pair of fourth quarter scores. AU moved 33 yards on nine plays following an interception by walk-on cornerback Kevin Hobbs. Smith went high over the pile from one-yard out after it looked like Sullivan had crossed the goal line a play earlier on a QB draw. Smith did the honors again from 10 yards out to cap an 80-yard, nine-play drive.
Campbell said after watching video of the loss to Georgia Tech a week earlier, the offense could see how close it was to making big plays for scores. "We kept seeing that we were just an inch away from making big plays. We concentrated today on finishing off that inch."
The Tigers, now 1-2, have two weeks to prepare for game four, a visit from defending Division I-AA national champion Western Kentucky.