"I want to brag on Brandon Cox for what he has been through," said Coach Tommy Tuberville, commenting on his fifth-year senior QB who was booed on his home field a week earlier in a loss to Mississippi State.
"He brought us back, showed poise and showed a lot of class," said Tuberville, whose Tigers improved to 2-2 while NMSU fell to 2-2. "That is what Auburn is about. I hope a lot of people saw that. That is exactly what it is about.
"He's a gutsy young man who took a lot the last couple of weeks, but came back and if hadn't been for him we would have been in a little trouble tonight," Tuberville added.
Freshman Kodi Burns got his first start at QB and wasn't effective running the football like he had been a week earlier. He netted 20 yards on seven carries and was 1-5 passing for 58 yards on a TD bomb.
Cox came off the bench in the second quarter to hit 13-19 passes for 135 yards and one TD and mix his passing with runs from Ben Tate and Mario Fannin. Both tailbacks the century mark with 111 yards on 21 carries while Fannin gained 103 on 15 carries with three of them runs for scores.
The Tigers held a shaky 21-20 lead at halftime, but turned up the defensive pressure in the third quarter and didn't allow the Aggies any more points. "We persevered and we just kept on plugging and making plays," said Tuberville, who noted that a trio of interceptions by Sen'Derrick Marks and cornerback Jonathan Wilhite, who had two of them, were big factors in the win.
"We didn't make anything happen in the first three games," the coach said. "I hope it will catch up to us a little bit. We are owed a few, and obviously, we got some. It was good to see our guys have a lot of fun. It has been awfully tough the last couple of weeks and it is good to see them relaxed and enjoying themselves."
The first half had plenty of action and too much of it was not good for the home team.
The Tigers won the toss and opened with Burns at QB and three straight running plays behind a re-configured offensive line that included the college debut of Ryan Pugh at left tackle filling in for injured King Dunlap and Chaz Ramsey at right guard for Mike Berry. Tuberville said he will have to grade the film to know how the rookies played, but said he liked the line surge as Auburn finished with 422 yards of offense to 379 for the Aggies.
After a three and out the teams exchanged punts before the Tigers had another three and out with three more runs.
With New Mexico State on its on 20 with a third and four, A.J. Harris caught a short pass from Chase Holbrook and was hit hard by safety Zac Etheridge. The ball popped loose and it was picked up by tackle Pat Sims who ran in from 21 yards out for the second scoop and score TD of the year for the Tigers.
"There was no way anybody was stopping me from scoring," said Sims, who made the play despite having one hand wrapped to protect an injury.
Auburn's lead didn't last long though. The Aggies raced 80 yards in 10 plays with the big one a 44-yard pass to tight end Nick Cleaver to put the visitors first down at the AU 14. Five plays later Holbrook scored from one-yard out on a sneak to tie the game with 3:51 left in the opening quarter.
The Tigers regained the lead with their next play from scrimmage. From the shotgun Burns threw a long pass down the sideline to Rodgeriqus Smith. The ball was slightly underthrown, but Smith jumped to make the catch and ran into the end zone to give the Tigers a 14-7 lead.
New Mexico State tied the game again with 10:24 left in the second quarter with with a drive that covered 86 yards on 14 plays. The big one was a perfectly thrown sideline route on third and 18 to Tonny Glynn to the AU 14. The QB hooked up with Brandon Allen for a five-yard scoring pass.
Cox then made his first appearance of the night and the start couldn't have been much worse. He fumbled his first snap and the ball was recovered at the AU 25 by LaAuli Fonoti. On the next play Chris Williams was wide open at the goal line for a TD that put the Aggies up 20-14 as the PAT by Paul Young hit the left upright.
Cox got the call for the next series and did much better as the Tigers moved 62 yards for a touchdown on nine plays. Auburn had a chance to score on the second play of the possession when Cox's perfect deep pass over the middle was dropped by Robert Dunn, who had dropped a perfect pass from Burns earlier in the game that prevented the Tigers from converting a third down.
Runs by Ben Tate of 18, eight and nine yards sparked the Tigers and Mario Fannin got the touchdown from a yard out at left guard behind Tyronne Green and scored untouched with 7:07 left in the half to put the Tigers up 21-20.
The Tigers had a chance to extend the lead just before intermission, but Wes Byrum's 48-yard field goal try was blocked.
The Tigers kicked off to start the second half and the Aggies came out looking sharp on offense, but an interception by Wilhite gave the Tigers the ball at their own 32.
With Cox calling the signals, the Tigers moved 68 yards on seven plays. Cox capped the march with a 18-yard pass to Smith in the end zone to put the home team ahead 28-20.
The Tigers quickly extended the lead to 35-20 with another touchdown 22 seconds later at the 9:11 mark of the third quarter. This one was set up by the kicking game and the defense.
Byrum, who returned as the kickoff man after injuring his ankle in game one, kicked off into the end zone. State's Williams made the mistake of hesitating and then trying to return the ball. He was nailed at the nine by Josh Hebert and a half the distance penalty for an illegal block backed the Aggies up to the five.
Two plays later, Holbrook was pressured by Josh Thompson as he tried to hit a short pass over the middle. Sen'Derrick Marks intercepted the ball and the Tigers were in business at the NMSU two.
A Fannin run to just shy of the goal line set by a QB sneak by Cox for a touchdown as the Tigers increased their to 15 points.
The Tigers kept the heat on the visitors from the WAC with 20 more points in the fourth quarter.
Tate scored on the first play of the final quarter from two yards out to cap a nine play, 41-yard drive to make the score 42-20.
The Tigers scored again at the 13:53 mark on a five-yard run by Wes Byrum after the Aggies botched a reverse attempt on the kickoff return and Carl Stewart recovered the ball at the nine.
CThe offense scored in two plays. Cox hit Tim Hawthorne on a four-yard pass play and then Fannin scored his second touchdown of the night on a five-yard sweep at right end. That put the Tigers up 48:20 with 13:53 left in the game.
With the Tigers trying to run out the clock, Mario Fannin broke loose and raced 67 yards to end the score at 55-20 with 22 seconds left.
"It's been a very stressful week for me and I did the best that I could," Cox said. "I had a lot of support from my teammates. They kept telling me they believed in me and my time would come."