No Turnovers Means No Opening Night Loss

A report is featured on Auburn's 40-14 victory over Washington State.

Auburn, Ala.--What a difference no turnovers make.

On opening night 2005, Tommy Tuberville's Tigers were upset 23-14 by Georgia Tech after turning the ball over five times against the Yellow Jackets in a game Auburn players said they should have won.

Fast forward to opening night 2006 against another potentially dangerous non-conference opponent and the Tigers cruised to a 40-14 victory over Washington State. There were no fumbles and no interceptions in the offensive equation that featured impressive running by Kenny Irons, a strong all-around performance from the rebuilt offensive line and a solid effort from QB Brandon Cox.

Irons carried the ball 20 times for 183 yards and one score and caught three passes for 40 more yards as Auburn outgained the Cougars 484-274 in total offense.

"Kenny Irons, what can you say about him...probably one of the best running backs in the country," Tuberville said. "He probably got half of his yards after contact against a very good defense that was putting nine on the line of scrimmage. He will keep seeing that throughout the year."

Irons singled out his offensive line, calling each by name and pointing out they gave him lots of room to run. "I was proud of those guys tonight," the senior said.

Auburn had dropped three of its last four openers, including a pair to another Pac-10 team, Southern Cal. Tuberville and his staff made it a high priority for that not to happen again, working on a game plan for the Cougars early in the year.

"I won't have to hear about not winning the first game for a while," the head coach said.

Offensive coordinator Al Borges, whose offense suffered through a frustrating opener a year earlier, was smiling after the victory that featured 293 net yards rushing, an average of 6.7 yards per carry.

"I can't tell you how much better I feel about the overall performance than I did last year," Borges said. "To take care of the ball that well in the first game is something to be proud of. Generally in the first game there is going to be some sloppiness, but I think what we saw was a testament to the play of our quarterback and our running back. It was also a great job by our offensive line giving them a lot of room to run."

Tuberville said the defensive effort was good at times and needed worked at other times, but liked what he saw early. "Defensively, I thought we set the tone in the first five or six minutes," Tuberville said.

New defensive coordinator Will Muschamp liked the early effort, but said, "I thought we got a little tired on the defensive front and at times we didn't take as well as I would have liked, but the effort was good and any win is a good win."

The visitors won the toss and took the football, but went nowhere thanks to a pair of sacks on the opening series by juniors Josh Thompson and Quentin Groves.

Quentin Groves makes a sack.

The Tigers moved into Cougar territory immediately as Kenny Irons ripped off a 42-yard run on Auburn's first offensive play of the season. However, two more runs and an incomplete pass forced the Tigers to settle for a 31-yard field goal to put the Tigers up 3-0 with 11:16 remaining in the quarter.

After another three and out that included a sack by Christopher Browder, AU moved the ball for another field goal. The march stalled at the 28 when Prechae Rodriguez dropped a third down pass that would have been good for a first down. This drive took four minutes and covered 47 yards in 10 plays. Vaughn drilled a career-long 44-yarder with 5:21 to play in the first quarter.

The Cougars responded with a pass play for their initial first down after a third straight touchback following another deep kickoff by Matt Clark. They didn't stop there either.

The Cougars took the lead with 2:09 left in the first quarter with a two-yard TD pass to Jason Hill from Alex Brink following a 42-yard run.

Auburn regained the lead on the next possession as Vaughn showed off the stronger leg he displayed throughout preseason as he nailed a 52-yarder with plenty of distance to spare. That put the Tigers on top 9-7 with 14:09 left in the second half.

After allowing one first down on the next Wazzou possession, Auburn drove 57-yards for a fourth field goal and a 12-7 lead with 7:37 left in the half. The big play on the drive was a 41-yard pass over the middle to Rodgeriqus Smith who got behind the secondary, but he lost his balance with a chance to make a big play even bigger.

Auburn's next possession produced the Tigers' first touchdown of the season on a quick-strike three-play effort. The final 34 yards came when Cox caught the Cougars blitzing. He hit Brad Lester on a screen pass. Tim Duckworth provided a big block and the speedy tailback raced down the sidelines before diving in for the score with 4:59 left before halftime.

Leading 19-7 the Tigers had one more first half possession, but had to punt for the first time after a personal foul penalty on Joe Cope put the offense in a hole.

At intermission, the Tigers held a 94-86 edge in rushing yardage and a bigger advantage in the passing game with a 141-28 margin.

After a near-miss on a touchdown on the first play of the opening quarter, Irons went the distance on the opening possession of the second half. Running at right tackle, he cut back inside and raced to the left corner of the end zone for the TD giving the Tigers a 26-7 lead. AU's good field possession was set up by another good kickoff return from Tristan Davis.

After the teams exchanged punts, the Cougars went to the bullpen and brought in a new thrower. Six-foot-seven, 234-pound sophomore Gary Rogers gave the visitors an immediate lift. They drove 90 yards on just six plays with the big one a 50-yard touchdown pass over the middle to six-foot-eight tight end Cody Boyd who was uncovered and not touched until he reached the goal line. That cut the AU lead to 26-14 with 7:14 left in the third quarter.

The Tigers looked like they would score on the next possession after Will Herring raced 42 yards on a fake punt as he took the direct snap from Pete Compton and raced up the middle for 42 yards to the Cougar 47.

"The Mississippi Gambler is back due to popular demand," joked Tuberville after the game.

Herring was smiling about the play, too, but noted that he was a little surprised his head coach made the call on fourth down and nine at AU's own 19-yard line. "I don't know if I would have made that call, but I guess that is why he is the head coach."

Herring had the option to call off the play at the last minute, but didn't change the call and the hole opened up the middle with some trap blocks at the line of scrimmage.

Auburn moved into field goal range, but Vaughn's fifth attempt was wide with 3:37 left in the third quarter.

However, on Auburn's next possession the Tigers added a much-needed touchdown to give the home team some breathing room. The Tigers did the damage on the ground as they pounded a tiring WSU defense with the runs of Irons and Lester. It was Lester who scored with 12 yards out behind the blocks of Tim Duckworth and Jonathan Palmer at right guard with 11:02 remaining to give the Tigers a 33-14 lead.

That touchdown probably put the game away, but the Tigers added an insurance score with 2:54 left as Carl Stewart bulled in from a yard out at right tackle on fourth and one to cap a nine-play, 43-yard drive that was set up by a Herring interception, the only turnover of the night.

WSU head coach Bill Doba said, "You are never happy with a loss, but I thought our kids battled hard. Our defense was put in some bad situations, but they never quit."

Doba said he was impressed with Kenny Irons. "He is as good as I have seen and he was good tonight. There were a lot of times I thought we had him, but he ran right through our arms. We didn't tackle very well. What he does so well is that he gets that flow going straight up the field and has such great vision."

The Tigers open SEC play next Saturday at Mississippi State, a Thursday night loser to South Carolina.


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