Seniors, Defense Lead Auburn Past Huskers

A report from the Cotton Bowl where Auburn defeated Nebraska features comments from players and Tommy Tuberville.

Dallas, Tex.--In a season in which the kicking game has been extremely important to Auburn's success, it was appropriate that the winning margin was provided by the right leg of senior John Vaughn.

With the defense stepping up with an inspired second half performance, the Tigers only needed three points after halftime to win their 11th game and take a 17-14 victory over the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the AT&T Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day.

"It's tremendous to go out like this," Vaughn. "It feels great for the seniors to win this game. It feels great for the whole team.

"All of the seniors had a big part in this game and that is what makes it special," Vaughn adds. "This is a great way to finish my college career. The stadium and game has a lot of history."

The kicker has a very good point about the way the seniors stepped up as they won their school record 41st game in a four-year period.

*Senior Will Herring was Auburn's leading tackler with seven stops and was named defensive MVP.

*Senior Courtney Taylor was named the Cotton Bowl offensive Most Valuable Player on a day he set a new Auburn record for career interceptions. Taylor made six catches for 70 yards and finished his AU career with 153 receptions, three more than the old record set by Karsten Bailey from 1995-98.

*Senior linebacker Karibi Dede set up Auburn's first touchdown on an interception return that came after a pass was deflected by senior cornerback David Irons.

*Senior Kenny Irons led the Tigers in rushing with 72 hard-earned yards as he continued to play at less than full speed.

After being outplayed in the first half, the Tigers were tied at 14-14 against the Cornhuskers, a team that Auburn had played three times in school history without a win.

Although the offense played better after halftime, it was the defense that paved the way to victory. The Cornhuskers gained 230 yards in the game, but netted only 73 in the second half.

"Coach (Will) Muschamp did a great job of rallying his troops of halftime," Herring said of the Auburn defensive coordinator. "We made some mistakes (in the first half) here and there that led to touchdowns. He just told us to keep fighting and we made some adjustments on the board and we gave great effort in the second half."

Will Herring makes a stop on Nebraska QB Zac Taylor.

Head coach Tommy Tuberville noted that Nebraska's high-powered offense tries to confuse defenses so the Tigers tried to keep from beating themselves. "We didn't blitz a whole lot--maybe four or five times. We were going to make them earn what they got.

"They were trying to confuse us and trying to get us in a blitz and get us messed up on changing formations. We weren't going to allow them to get the big play. It allowed them to get more yards than we would have hoped, but when it really came down to crunch time, other than a couple of drives in the first half, we really played good on third down. I thought that was the key."

Nebraska took the football after the Tigers deferred to start the game and put together an impressive drive that chewed up half of the first quarter.

The Cornhuskers moved 80 yards on 15 plays, converting four third downs on the way. The touchdown came on a 13-yard pass from Zac Taylor to Nate Swift on third and seven as Swift beat coverage from Jerraud Powers.

Auburn couldn't move the ball on its first possession after a 14-yard run by Irons, but soon after that scored thanks to linebacker Karibi Dede's 52-yard interception return. The senior caught a deflected pass that popped high in the air and then ran down the Nebraska sideline using a good block from Quentin Groves against QB Taylor to take the football to the Nebraska nine.

After a run by Irons didn't gain yardage, Brandon Cox found Carl Stewart uncovered and flipped the ball to the fullback in the flat and he crossed the goal line untouched to tie the game with 59 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Auburn offense was set up with great field position the next time it got the ball when Nebraska botched a punt fake. The snap to the upback was supposed to be followed by a handoff for a reverse run, but Patrick Trahan blew up the play that lost 15 yards, giving the Tigers possession at the the Nebraska 14.

The Tigers moved to first down at the two on a pass to Courtney Taylor and two plays later scored from a yard out on a dive over the top by Stewart. That put the Tigers up 14-7 with 12:22 left in the second quarter.

Nebraska answered Auburn's score with another long drive aided by a third down penalty for illegal substitution that kept the drive alive. Brandon Jackson found a big hole in the Tiger defense to score from the 20 to cap the drive that covered 72 yards in seven plays with nine minutes left in the second quarter.

Neither team threatened to score the rest of the half. The Auburn offense went into the locker room with just 46 total yards on 20 plays. Cox, who was just 2-5 passing for 21 yards, kept the ball for only 10:57 to 19:03 for the Cornhuskers, who totaled 157 first half yards on 37 plays. Taylor was 9-14 passing for 91 yards. At the break the Tigers were 0-3 on third down conversions while Nebraska made 5-8.

Auburn's offense showed more lift to start the third quarter after Tristan Davis returned the kickoff 43 yards to the Tiger 48.

Auburn moved into Nebraska territory on the running of Irons, but the Tigers lost the football when the officials ruled the Auburn senior fumbled the ball at the 37. Tommy Tuberville challenged the ruling, but it wasn't overturned.

After giving up a first down, the Tigers forced a punt and this time Auburn got points out of driving the ball into Nebraska territory. However, the Tigers had to settle for three when it looked like they could have seven.

Passing the ball, the Tigers moved the ball deep into Cornhusker territory. Lee Guess appeared to catch a pass in the end zone for a score, but the play was ruled incomplete. Tuberville didn't have a challenge left so the play wasn't overturned.

The Tigers the hurt themselves as a Ben Tate run to the eight-yard line was called back by a holding call moving the football back to the 25. After an incomplete pass, John Vaughn kicked a 42-yard field into the wind. That put the Tigers up 17-14 with 6:20 left in the third quarter after a drive that covered 55 yards on 10 plays.

Nebraska responded by moving the ball to the Auburn 34 where the drive stalled. The Cornhuskers lined up like they were going to kick a 51-yard field goal. Instead, they executed a perfect punt, stopping the ball dead inside the one-yard line. However, Auburn got the ball off the goal line and prevented any damage.

Cornhusker coach Bill Callahan noted that a long field goal was out of his kicker's range. That lack of range proved costly again in the fourth quarter.

After a fumble by Cox gave the Cornhuskers great field position at the Auburn 42 with 5:24 left, Nebraska made a first down, but faced a fourth and 11 at the Auburn 30. Taylor tried to throw a pass to Frantz Hardy, but he was covered and Auburn was able to run out the clock except for one desperation. play by the Cornhuskers after an AU punt.

"The fumble didn't bother us the way we were playing on defense," David Irons says. "We were excited to get back out there on the field and stop them again."

That is what happened and the Tigers ended their season with an 11-2 record. Nebraska came into the game at 9-3 and suffered its second straight loss after falling to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game.

"Our players poured their hearts out today, and we just came up a little bit short," Cornhusker coach Bill Callahan said. "I've got a lot of confidence in this team as it grows and matures going into next season. I'm awfully confident that we'll get better and break through at some point."

"Credit Auburn's defense--it was stalwart and stiffened at crucial times," Callahan said. "It was the fastest defense we've seen all year."

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