With those two offensive players leading the way, it was a happy homecoming at Auburn even though the defense had its struggles at times with Tulane quarterback Lester Ricard and the Green Wave offense that racked up 389 total yards, but just one touchdown.
"Defensively, we gave up too many yards," said Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville. "That is probably the best quarterback that we have seen this year. He put it on the money and we weren't able to get pressure on him in the first half."
Ricard completed 20-39 passes for 283 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Many of his passes were perfectly thrown balls to receivers who were not exactly running wide open.
"Offensively, we took care of business," Tuberville said. "We held some guys out in Tim Duckworth, Kenny Irons and Brad Lester got a little sore after the first few plays so we pulled him out. It was a big day for Ben Tate.
"The offensive line really played well, but we could have another problem. It looks like Bosley (center Jason Bosley) has hurt his knee. We'll have to do some scrambling starting tomorrow."
With starting center Joe Cope out, right tackle Jonathan Palmer finished the game at center in the fourth quarter and Antwoin Daniels took over for Palmer. "It doesn't matter to me where I play," Palmer said. "I just hope Bos is okay and we will be back out there, but if I have to play center that is fine. The important thing is that we win games."
Another Tiger, freshman linebacker Tray Blackmon, suffered a hip flexor in the first half and didn't play after that.
Tuberville said that freshman Tate could figure prominently in the offense when the Tigers return to SEC play next week vs. Ole Miss. "Ben did a good job for the second time to play," Tuberville said. "We are going to need him. We are just beat up.
"Kenny is still hobbling around. Brad is going to be hobbling. I don't know how much playing time he (Tate) will get. He might be the starter next week. It just depends on what happens."
Lester carried the ball six times for 23 yards. Tre Smith added 44 yards on five running plays and caught two passes for 22 yards.
Tate said he would probably give himself a grade of B+ for his effort. "I could have done some things better," he said. "On a couple of runs I could have been more patient waiting for the hole to develop. Just being out there that long and getting that many carries is kind of exciting."
With the victory over the Green Wave, Auburn won its seventh game in eight starts while Tulane fell to 2-5 overall. Green Wave head coach Chris Scelfo said, "Auburn is an outstanding football team. They are very well coached, very physical. They came out and really established the tone early. When we gave them the ball on that fumble ,they jumped on us right away.
"Every time you make a mistake on them, that's a sign of a great football team when they capitalize on it," Scelfo added. "They caused a lot of havoc for us today, but I was proud of the way our kids fought and hung in there."
Highlights for the Tigers included forcing three turnovers. "That's our goal for every game and that was big," said defensive end Quentin Groves, who had three tackles, including the only sack for the Tigers.
The sack news was better on offense for Auburn as Cox didn't go down once from the Tulane pass rush and that had a lot to do with his excellent performance as did his good health. "I was back to 100 percent today and I felt great out there," said the junior, who helped the offense convert 11-15 third downs vs. the Green Wave.
Tulane got the football to start the game and picked up a first down before punting to the Tigers, who took over at their own 26.
With Lester filling in for Irons, who was held out to rest his injured turf toe and ankle, the tailback got a touchdown drive started with a seven-yard sweep of left end.
Big plays on the nine-play drive were passes for 16 yards to Tre Smith and 36 to Lester. On first and goal at the 13-yard line after an illegal procedure penalty on guard Leon Hart, who filled in for Duckworth (knee injury), Lester set up the TD with a 12-yard run and scored on third and goal from the two after Cox lost a yard on a bobbled snap exchange with Bosley.
Tulane responded to the touchdown with one of its own, moving 80 yards on just seven plays. Six of the plays were passes, including a 34-yarder to Preston Brown over Tristan Davis, who started at free safety in place of injured Aairon Savage. Brown had a big day, catching nine balls for 139 yards while Damarcus Davis caught eight for 126. The rest of the team had a total of just three receptions.
The touchdown was a perfectly thrown pass from Ricard to Davis, who caught the ball in stride in the corner of the end zone after getting behind cornerback Jonathan Wilhite.
After both teams exchanged punts, with a career-best 71-yarder by Kody Bliss, Auburn scored its second touchdown. Tre Smith started the drive with a 29-yard run. The Tigers moved the ball 68 yards on just five plays with the touchdown coming on the first play of the second quarter. Cox hit tight end Tommy Trott on a deep sideline route for 27 yards for the score.
Tommy Trott scores his second touchdown this season.
A Tulane miscue on the next possession set up the third Tiger touchdown. On third and two at the Tulane 28-yard line, Ricard mishandled the shotgun snap and linebacker Karibi Dede scooped the ball and was tackled immediately at the Tulane 10. Tulane ran most of its plays from the shotgun.
Two plays later the Tigers led 21-7 on four-yard run by Tre Smith followed by a six-yard pass to the running back, who lined up at the fullback position on the snap and caught a swing pass.
Auburn had another drive going on its next possession, but Courtney Taylor fumbled the football at the Tulane 33. The rest of the scoring in the first half came on field goals. Both were set up by unusual circumstances.
Tulane got its 21-yard Ross Thevenot field goal after the Tigers gambled and lost on fourth down and inches at their own 33. "We got slammed," Tuberville said. "We ran a quarterback sneak and lost half a yard. That doesn't happen very often. They beat us off the ball. We let them get penetration. That was my fault. We should have never gone for that. We were just trying to run out the clock."
Cox was hit before he could get to the line of scrimmage and the Green Wave threatened to score a touchdown after Brown caught a 26-yard pass at the Auburn three. However, the defense rose to the occasion and forced the field goal on fourth down from the four.
With just 15.4 seconds left as Tulane kicked off, it seemed improbable the Tigers would have enough time to score, but they did. An onsides kick was fielded by Trott, who returned the ball 10 yards to 50. The Tigers called timeout and then Cox found wide receiver Lee Guess on a 22-yard pass to the Green Wave 28. John Vaughn, who became Auburn's all-time leading scorer in the game, got the call to kick a 45-yard field goal and it split the uprights as time ran out, making the score 24-10 at halftime.
At halftime, the Tigers had netted 229 yards on 28 plays as Cox hit 12-13 passes for 161 yards. The only incompletion was a perfectly thrown pass to Tre Smith that the running back dropped on what would have been a very long gainer.
Tulane had 167 yards at halftime on 36 plays with 155 through the air with Ricard completing 12-23 passes.
Auburn scored on its second possession of the third quarter after a 92-yard Tulane drive came up empty when Will Herring recovered a fumble by Tulane receiver Preston Brown and returned it eight yards to the AU 13. Herring led the Tigers in tackles with five stops.
The Auburn offense went to work with Tate running the football. On the 10th play of the possession, a third and five from the Tulane 23, Cox hit Taylor for first down yardage, but he made three tacklers miss and turned it into a Tiger TD. That put Auburn up 31-10 with 2:20 left in the third quarter.
Tulane responded with a drive for a field goal. The big play was a 48-yard pass to Damarcus Davis to the Tiger 32. After a Matt Forte run for 21 yards on the next play, the AU defense stiffened and forced a 31-yard field goal. Forte was effective running the draw from the shotgun formation and rushed for 117 yards on 21 carries.
Auburn trumped the three points with seven on its next possession with Tate doing much of the work. His 34-yard run was the big play on the 11-play, 84-yard scoring drive that put the Tigers up 38-13 with 9:52 left.
Tuberville and his staff played subs the rest of the way. Defensive back Zach Gilbert helped prevent more Tulane points with a 57-yard interception return on the next possession. Auburn then ran out the clock and ended the game on Tulane's 10-yard line.
"We feel like we can move the ball against anybody," Tulane's Davis said. "Next week we will have to work on finishing drives. We felt like we played hard, but every time we got it inside the 20 we had to either kick it or we turned it over."
The Tigers will be on the road next Saturday with an 11:30 a.m. kickoff at Ole Miss.