Although he split time with redshirt freshman Taylor Bourgeois in the game, McNeill says the experience was a great one for him in the grand scheme of things.
"Going into the next couple of games, it really gave me a feel of how SEC ball goes," McNeill notes. "Mississippi State had a real good defensive line and this is really what I needed to see, how good the SEC is on the defensive line. I know now that I have to step it up and do a lot better."
Unlike McNeill, the group of freshmen wide receivers hit the ground running against USC as the trio of Devin Aromashodu, Anthony Mix and Ben Obomanu all received plenty of playing time against the Trojans. Becoming more involved in the offense in the following weeks, their added experience showed on Thursday night as all three came up with big catches in the second quarter as the Tigers exploded for three touchdowns to take over the game.
The first, and possibly most important, big play from the group was made by Aromashodu. Struggling to find any rhythm on offense against a blitzing Bulldog defense, quarterback Daniel Cobb found a streaking Aromashodu across the middle for a 27-yard gain that signaled the beginning of a different look for the Auburn passing game.
"I was just waiting for my chance to catch the ball," Aromashodu says. "I was just trying to get involved and get the offense back on pace. We weren't playing too good so I was trying to make something happen to get us moving."
Trailing 7-0 in the second quarter, the Tigers were still looking to make something happen on offense and that's when Cobb looked to the six-foot-five Mix. On a third-and-11 deep in Bulldog territory, Cobb decided to let the former basketball standout do his thing and lofted one high in the air. Making a play on the ball, Mix caught it over the back of a Mississippi State defender for Auburn's first touchdown and gave Auburn the momentum it desperately needed.
"When I went up to the line I was thinking touchdown all along," Mix says. "I was just trying to concentrate on getting in the end zone. I actually made the wrong read. It was a big mistake, but luckily I got some good out of it. It felt pretty good to score my first touchdown in college football--real good."
Just minutes later, after the Tigers took advantage of a muffed punt to take a 14-7 lead on a Marcel Willis touchdown catch, the freshmen struck again. This time it was Obomanu doing the damage. Running a clock management drill to perfection late in the first half and getting an incomplete pass from the Bulldogs on third down to stop the clock for them before getting the ball on a punt, the Tigers got good field position on the Bulldog 47 with just 28 seconds remaining. After a short completion to Mix on the sideline, Cobb spotted Obomanu streaking down the sideline and the duo connected on a 45-yard touchdown that deflated the Bulldog team and crowd.
"We feel very confident now," Obomanu says of the freshmen receivers as a whole. "The first three games we were kind of nervous and skeptical. All of us wanted to score a touchdown and do a lot of things. By going out and a couple of us scoring touchdowns, the wide receivers are really starting to get involved in the offense a lot and it really helps us out knowing that we should feel comfortable the rest of the season."