Second, it was huge for the confidence of quarterback Brandon Cox to have a successful outing and build some rhythm in the offense for the first time this season. Third, and just as important, was the contribution of running back Mario Fannin.
After being held out of the season opener against Kansas State because the coaching staff decided he wasn't up to speed in the pass protection department, the redshirt freshman saw his first action at running back in game number two against South Florida.
While he showed flashes of good play with 62 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, Fannin also fumbled twice which shook his confidence. That continued the next week against Mississippi State as he carried the ball just seven times for 40 yards before fumbling again.
Determined to fix the problem, Coach Eddie Gran made Fannin carry a football around with him around campus last week. The therapy worked as Fannin ripped off 103 yards on just 15 carries with three going for touchdowns. He says after the struggles he's had to open the season, it was fun to have a day like he did against the Aggies.
"It was great," Fannin says. "I worked hard on not fumbling the ball. I carried the ball around school and my teammates kind of did, if you've ever seen the movie "The Program," they tried to hit the ball out of my hands. That really helped me out a lot. I just went into the game focused. The offensive line did a great job and Brandon did a great job. The offense just clicked and we're going to continue that in the rest of the season."
Near the end of the Mississippi State game, Fannin received a kickoff from the Bulldogs and ran tentatively up the field before being tackled for a short return. That was very unlike the Fannin who was a terror in practices, scrimmages and spring practice because of his aggressive and hard-charging style. He admits that he began to think too much about not turning the ball over.
"When you think about it most likely it will happen," Fannin says. "You just have to go into the game knowing you're not going to fumble. I just have to make sure I hold it high and tight is the main thing and I'll be all right."
With his problem on the backburner now after getting through a game without even a hint of a bobble, Fannin says it's time to turn his attention to Florida. It's hard to do that without looking back at one more bit of good news from the New Mexico State game though and that was the play of true freshmen Ryan Pugh and Chaz Ramsey. Joining fellow freshman Lee Ziemba in the lineup for the first time, Fannin says both brought a little something extra to Auburn's offense last week.
"They did a lot," Fannin says. "Ramsey is a good pulling guard. He came around there and knocked some folks on their butts. We saw that in practice. Pugh did a great job on the left side. He's got a lot of talent. The freshmen stepped it up big time. It's not anything different than Kodi (Kodi Burns). He stepped it up big time for us. I think we've got a lot of mature freshmen in there getting to play."
Saying the new linemen give the Tigers more speed and the ability to get to the edge while following a blocker, Fannin says it's going to be fun to see how all of the young players respond to playing on the road for the first time as a Tiger. Fannin himself will be making his first appearance on the road and it just so happens to come at a place he's been to before and a place he says he's looking forward to playing in.
"It's going to be a great experience," he says. "I went there on my recruiting visits. It was down to Auburn and Florida. It's going to be great to play in The Swamp. I'm just going to take it all in and feed off of it. I'm sure the team will too. We've talked about it being one of the loudest places we'll play in and I'm sure we'll feed off that."