Backup QB Leads Tigers Up and Down The Field

Blake Field will never forget Homecoming 2005 as he threw three touchdown passes as a surprise starter for Auburn in its victory over Western Kentucky.

Auburn, Ala.--With surprise starter Blake Field leading a vanilla offense and the defense controlling the action for the first three quarters, Auburn improved to 3-1 with a 37-14 Homecoming victory on Saturday over Western Kentucky at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Field, who found out approximately an hour before the opening kickoff that he would get his first collegiate start, passed for three touchdowns as he completed 13-22 passes for 200 yards with no interceptions and three scores.

The redshirt freshman did have his team's only turnover on a fumble, but all things considered he did a good job filling in for starter Brandon Cox, who was sidelined with a 103 degree fever.

Cox, who fell ill on the way to the stadium, was taken to East Alabama Medical Center for tests and treatment. Doctors there got his fever down and he returned to the sideline in the second half, but wasn't dressed out with the Tigers comfortably in the lead 24-0 at intermission.

"If they needed me, I could have played in the second half," Cox told Inside the Auburn Tigers. "It wasn't anything I ate," he said. "I have some kind of virus."

Tuberville said that Cox may take the day off from practice on Sunday as the Tigers begin preparations for South Carolina.

Meanwhile, Field noted that he was a bit nervous in pre-game and on his first play, but after that he settled down and it was business as usual, noting it is something he has prepared for much of his life as a coach's son.

With Cox not able to pass for about a week in preseason practice due to a sore arm, Field got extra work with the first offense then and that turned out to be a plus, Field said. "They knew what I was like," Field pointed out. "They knew what I could."

Offensive coordinator Al Borges said he wasn't surprised that Field gave a solid performance in his first college start. "I thought he played pretty doggone well without grading," Borges said. "For the most part, I thought he did a heck of a job so you can't sell him short someone who found out he was going to start an hour before the game."

Anthony Mix, who caught a touchdown pass from Field, said that he wasn't surprised the redshirt freshman played well. "He has a real good arm and it is stronger than Brandon's," Mix noted. "He isn't as accurate as Brandon, but Blake throws the ball well, particularly when he gets outside the pocket and throws on the move."

At halftime the Tigers looked like they would have a good chance at their second shutout of the season because defensive coordinator David Gibbs had substituted early and often and the reserves kept the WKU offense in check with 94 yards of total offense at halftime. However, the AU backups gave up TD drives of 80 and 83 yards in the fourth quarter to end AU's streak of 13 consecutive quarters without allowing a touchdown.

Gibbs said, "I think our starters played pretty good for the most part after the first play, which was a scramble. A couple of guys missed tackles and let them have a 50-yard run. That was disappointing, but we regrouped and stopped them. I thought for the most part, the first half was pretty clean."

"Once we started rolling guys in there and they kept their starters in there, it was hard. Our young guys kept playing hard. We just made some mistakes, which happens sometimes. That ended up happening and it got sloppy."

Auburn reversed its strategy from the previous two games by deferring after winning the toss and putting the defense on the field first. It didn't look like a good strategy as WKU quarterback Justin Haddix raced 51 yards on a broken play to start the game after he couldn't find an open receiver.

However, after that wakeup call, the defense sent the Hilltoppers in the other direction and a fourth and 12 field goal attempt from 48 yards out sailed wide left at breezy Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Borges kept the pressure off the new starting quarterback as Auburn kept things totally basic on the first possession. Kenny Irons carried the football seven times to start the drive before Field threw a short pass to Ben Obomanu that left the Tigers with fourth and two at the WKU 11.

Tuberville opted for the field goal and John Vaughn made a 22-yarder, his first of the season, to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead with 9:10 left in the contest following the 58-yard drive.

The visitors went three and out on the next possession and the Tigers took over at their own 37.

Brad Lester was the featured runner on the next series. The redshirt freshman showed his quickness while running for gains of seven, nine, two, nine and nine before Irons finished the drive with runs of five and an eight-yarder at left guard for the touchdown.

Irons led the Tigers with 111 rushing yards on 18 carries while Lester chipped in with 10 for 64 yards. Tre Smith ran the baol seven times for 25 yards and Carl Stewart had three carries for six yards.

The Tigers punted for the first time since the Mississippi State game the next time they got the ball as they were able to gain one first down before punting.

After another three and out possession for the Hilltoppers, Auburn put together its second touchdown drive. The Tigers moved 52 yards on five plays. The big one was a third down play as Field's first college TD pass covered 38 yards as Lester had good blocking down the sideline, include a key one from receiver Mix, on his way to the end zone. That score came with 4:41 left in the half.

The Tigers got the ball back one more time in the second period and managed to move 56 yards on nine plays in 2:18 to score with 13 seconds left on the clock. Field hit Mix on a slant pass from nine yards out for the score to give the Tigers a 24-0 lead.

The game's first turnover led to the first points after halftime. Travis Williams intercepted a pass thrown by Haddix and raced down the sideline in front of the Auburn bench for a score, breaking a tackle inside the five. However, Wayne Dickens was called for a block in the back on the return.

Williams, who said he is "about 85 percent" of full speed recovering from a turf toe injury, apologized after the game for not showing a lot of speed on the runback. "It took me a while to get to the end zone," he joked.

Linebacker Travis Williams returns the ball for a score, but the play was called back by a penalty.

AU then moved the football 51 yards on 10 plays before settling for a 20-yard Vaughn field goal on fourth and three. The Tigers nearly lost the ball on the drive when a deep pass by Field was intercepted, however, a roughing the passer penalty negated the pick.

The only other points of the third quarter were on Vaughn's third field goal of the day, a 32-yarder, to cap a five-play possession that covered 40 yards after the Tigers stopped the Hilltoppers on a fourth and three play at the Tiger 44.

The Hilltoppers then moved he ball 80 yards on seven plays with the score coming on a 42-yard QB draw by Haddix, who rushed for 82 yards on 12 carries to lead WKU. He raced through a large hole in the middle of the AU defense.

After the game Tuberville said it didn't look like his Tigers had prepared for that play even though it was something that had been emphasized in practice.

The Tigers quickly matched the TD when Lester raced 45 yards with a short kickoff from the AU 18. It took just three plays to move 37 yards on three passes, two which were to Lee Guess, who grabbed a 13-yarder in the end zone for the touchdown with 11:19 left.

WKU then moved the ball 83 yards using the passing play. Third team corner Lorenzo Ferguson got beat deep on a 38-yarder to set up a one-yard run by Lerron Moore with 8:06 to play. That cut the margin to 37-14 and ended the scoring, although the visitors got a chance to cut the margin one more time after Field lost a fumble while looking to pass at his own 15.

However, three plays later walk-on cornerback Zach Gilbert intercepted Haddix in the end zone and returned the ball to the 21.

Field was back for the last possession, but gave way to third string QB Calvin Booker, who did not attempt a pass.

Western Kentucky coach David Elson, whose Division I-AA No. 1 ranked team fell to 2-1, said, "We definitely could have done more, but our heads are up. We played hard for 60 minutes. I'm disappointed because we didn't execute early."

Next up for the Tigers is a 6 p.m. home game next Saturday vs. South Carolina.

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