Blackmon made his presence felt Saturday night in Auburn's 27-17 victory over second-ranked Florida after a six-game suspension after an alcohol-related arrest in his hometown of LaGrange, Ga., this past May.
It was an auspicious beginning to the Auburn career of the 6-0, 205-pound Blackmon. Although he wasn't credited with a tackle against the Gators, Blackmon had one of the biggest plays for the Auburn defense. With Florida trailing 18-17 and threatening to take the lead with a touchdown or field goal with slightly less than 10 minutes to play, Blackmon stepped up.
Florida faced a third-down and three from the Auburn six-yard line. Gator quarterback Chris Leak attempted to find a receiver in the end zone, but had the ball knocked away by Blackmon who picked up the fumble and ran 22 yards to the Auburn 38.
"We were selling out trying to get to the quarterback," a smiling Blackmon told Inside the Auburn Tigers. "I ended up knocking the ball away. I can't remember exactly how because it happened so fast. I saw the ball and thought scoop and run."
Auburn didn't score as a result of the big play by Blackmon, but the Tigers did take 6:21 off the clock to keep the ball away from the explosive Gators before John Vaughn missed a 45-yard field goal attempt.
The Tigers got the ball back on Florida's first play after the Vaughn miss on an interception by safety Eric Brock. Four plays later, Vaughn nailed his fourth field goal of the game from 39 yards out to give Auburn a four-point lead and put the Gators in a desperation mode of having to score a touchdown, rather than a field goal to take the lead.
Four plays later defensive back Patrick Lee picked up a fumble on the game's last play as Florida attempted several laterals to move down the field. Lee raced 20 yards for the touchdown and the 27-17 final score as the clock showed 0:00.
Blackmon relished the moment in his first post-game interview since his high school days two years ago.
"I can't describe it in words," he says. "It's the best feeling I've had in a long time. It has been a long time coming, but it's worth it. Now I'm back out there with my guys, with my team, celebrating with my coaches. I feel like I'm back with my family."
Blackmon was in on numerous snaps during the course of the game, seeing his first play on kickoff coverage. His first two plays on defense resulted in him lining up wrong, Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville points out.
"I was too anxious to make a play," Blackmon admits.
"As the game went on, I got more comfortable and played off the team," he adds. "The first game you don't know what to expect. I just told myself I was going to play my game and not let all the extracurricular stuff affect me. I felt like I was well prepared after going through practice all week."
Blackmon has practiced with the Tigers throughout the season, but was cleared to play until game seven vs. the Gators.
Auburn used Blackmon's speed off the corner to pressure Leak, especially during the second half when the Tigers limited Florida to 85 yards total offense. He almost had one big play in the first half, but failed to lock up when he hit speedy Florida runner Percy Harvin in the backfield. Harvin escaped for a 35-yard gain and set up a touchdown for a 17-8 Florida lead. The drive covered 80 yards in only three plays, consuming just 48 seconds. The Gators wouldn't score again as Blackmon atoned for his miscue with the big fumble recovery and return in the fourth quarter.
Blackmon says he believes it was Auburn, not Florida stumbling, that made the difference in the second half when the Tigers outscored the Gators 16-0. "Florida didn't let it slip away," he says. "We were pounding, pounding and pounding, and never gave up. They have great athletes and played great, but I feel like it was our effort that made the difference. We just wanted it more."
Rated by Scout.com as the top linebacker in the country coming out of high school when he signed with Auburn, Blackmon is accustomed to a lot of attention, but not of the variety he's received the past few months. He's looking forward to a bright future for the Tigers--and more of what took place against Florida.
"We had some great emotional crowds at LaGrange, but obviously nothing like this," he notes. "The Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd was going wild and the emotion was wild. It was a great feeling and I was finally able to be a part of it."
In an ironic twist, a trainer who prepared Blackmon's eye-black before the game perhaps sensed what was to come. The lettering on his eye-black simply read, "The Bandit."
Blackmon says he doesn't know why the phrase was used, but it could become his calling card. Ask Chris Leak.