Tuscaloosa, Ala.--When senior wide receiver Courtney Taylor went down during Wednesday's practice with a hamstring injury it meant someone else had to step up for the Auburn offense. Saturday that player turned out to the two-headed weapon of Rodgeriqus Smith and Prechae Rodriguez at wide receiver.
The two combined to catch four passes for 75 yards and one very big touchdown in Auburn's win over Alabama in Saturday's Iron Bowl game. Quarterback Brandon Cox says that watching those guys make plays energized the entire offense and the receivers themselves.
"They stepped up," Cox says. "Courtney tried to go but he just couldn't. To see a guy like Rod step up and be the go-to guy and Prechae with that touchdown. It was a slant and go. I had some pressure and I just threw it up and gave him a chance to use his height. He made a great play. It was great for him and hopefully will give him a little confidence for next year."
Entering the week on the verge of becoming Auburn's all-time leading receiver, Taylor instead had to watch as the Tigers defeated Alabama in his last trip to what amounts to his home town. From nearby Carrollton, Taylor says that having to sit and watch the game was almost unbearable but he's happy to see the players step up in his absence and get the victory.
"It was real tough," Taylor says. "I did everything in my power. I rested, iced, treatment, I didn't really run on it until warm-ups this evening. It just wasn't meant for me to go today. It's tough but I'm happy that we got the victory. I'm looking forward to the bowl game."
"Rod Smith made a lot of big plays for us today," he adds. "Prechae had the play of the day. Montez Billings did a great job filling in for me. I'm so proud of those young guys. Like I told them, this is their team now. It's about time for me to move on. You can see the guys stepping up and being leaders now."
Prechae Rodriguez goes up high for the touchdown catch over Eric Gray.
Needing a big play on Saturday the Tigers turned to Rodriguez. A big play threat last season in his first year at Auburn from junior college, Rodriguez caught a 22-yard touchdown in the third quarter that proved to be the winning score. He says that in the huddle he knew his name was called and he was thankfully up for the challenge.
"My eyes lit up because I knew it was my time now," Rodriguez says. "I knew that corner was going to bite on the slant. The ball was in the air and it was time to make a play. I did it today."
Finding just enough offense to get the victory, Auburn now gets the enjoy the Thanksgiving holidays with family and friends before turning to Auburn the next week. With bowl practices not expected to start until after the players finish final exams the second week of December Taylor should be back and ready to go by then. Cox says that until they meet again they'll have some pretty special memories of this game to think about because of what they accomplished without their best player on the field.
"Courtney is our go-to guy," Cox says. "It hurt the passing game a little bit but the younger guys stepped up. The coaches wanted to run the ball a lot more with Courtney out. I think we did a good job for the most part. The first half the passing game was off because of me. It didn't have anything to do with the receivers. We got it together in the second half and came out on top."