Senior quarterback Brandon Cox had had a rough night. He was pounded by the South Florida defense, threw into double and triple coverage at times and was picked off twice.
"Blake is a lot like Brandon," Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville said after the 19-13 loss to Mississippi State on Saturday. "We just needed a change of pace."
All week long, fans talked. Would the coaches' loyalty for veteran quarterback Brandon Cox keep him in the game? Would the coaches stubbornly stick with the senior instead of putting in the fast and speedy but woefully inexperienced freshman?
It must have kept Burns up at night. His time had come so early. It must have kept Cox up at night, too. His time had passed so soon.
This wasn't how his senior year was supposed to unfold, but nothing about Cox's career has been normal (think car wreck, illness and injuries).
Saturday in Auburn's SEC opener against Mississippi State, Cox was intercepted on his first drive by State's Derek Pegues, who returned it for the touchdown after the pass was bobbled by tight end Cole Bennett. On Auburn's next possession, Cox was picked off by Anthony Johnson.
That time, he knew he was done.
"I went ahead and accepted it," he said. "I went to the sidelines. Coach said Kodi's going to see what he can do, and I was like, no problem."
Cox said the plan was for Burns to come in all along. Both quarterbacks had taken snaps with the first-team offense in practice. The two interceptions just hastened his debut. "The plan was to play Kodi for this game from the beginning," Cox said. "He was going to come in in certain situations, and after that second interception (quarterback coach Al Borges) just went ahead and let him go ahead to see what he can do."
What Burns did was rush 22 times for 87 yards and a touchdown. He completed eight passes for 65 yards. He took the field to a chorus of cheers from the Auburn fans and ignited a fire in Auburn's struggling offense.
Cox didn't let the cheers for his replacement bother him. He stood on the sidelines and cheered for him, too. When the same fans booed Cox later, he ignored it.
When Burns scored on a quarterback sneak, Cox was the first one on the field congratulating him.
As soon as Burns took the field, "I turned into a cheerleader," Cox said. "I wasn't getting it done, so they put Kodi in. He did really well and got some drives going. Then they caught onto it and adjusted their defense. I was on the sidelines doing everything I could to keep everybody going."
Tuberville said Cox remained the leader of the offense, even on the sidelines.
Borges told Cox to "keep his head in the game." In the fourth quarter, Borges sent Cox in again after Mississippi State had slowed Burns and the offense, which scored two quick TDs in the second quarter.
The plan was to see if Cox could lead the Tigers to a comeback victory like he did in game one. He almost did.
"He didn't go in the tank and it would have been easy to do that," Borges said. "That's why he was effective in that final drive. It's a shame we didn't finish it. I said (to him), ‘Keep your head in the game,' and he did."
Borges wouldn't say whether Cox or Burns would start next week. He did say the decision will be a tough one.
"We'll sit down and talk about it and watch tape," he said.
Cox, meanwhile, says Auburn can still this 1-2 season around.
"We lost two in a row and an SEC game, but it's a long season," he said.
"We're not out of it. We'll probably need some help, but we've got to get back at it. We'll watch some film and put it behind us."