Warhawks Grounded by AU Defense

A game report on Auburn's season opening 34-0 victory over ULM is featured.

Auburn, Ala.--Even running back Ben Tate admitted he was surprised to find out how the final tally under the rushing column turned out Saturday night.

The opening game for the Tony Franklin System, which features a pass-first, run-second approach, produced 321 rushing yards and just 85 passing yards as the Auburn Tigers defeated ULM 31-0 on Saturday night before a sellout crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium curious to see the new offense in action.

"I really didn't expect we would do that well running the ball," said Tate, who finished the evening with 115 yards on 13 carries. "I expected we would have about 200 yards passing, actually. It doesn't matter though. The important thing is we won the game."

The Tigers won the game with the defense leading the way. The Warhawks were consistently frustrated by an Auburn defense that allowed the visitors to convert just 2-18 third downs and average just 3.2 yards on 68 offensive plays.

Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin said the defense was "phenomenal," but didn't have much good to say about the Auburn offense that finished the night with 406 yards at 5.6 per play on a total of 73 plays.

Head coach Tommy Tuberville gave the performance mixed reviews, noting the Tigers need work in almost all areas, but said he liked how the offense ran the ball at times, how the defense tackled at times and how the special teams performed other than a missed field goal.

"The effort was good," the head coach said. "We found out a little bit more of what we need to do on offense. We didn't get the ball up the field very well. We tried to force some things. You win games on defense and special teams if you play hard.

"We ran the ball hard," Tuberville added. "We have three running backs that we feel good about. Tristan (Davis) could have played, but he felt a little weak in his ankle so we held him out. He should be able to go next week. We have to be able to put a little bit of the throwing game with the running game that we have, and we are going to get better and better."

The Tigers substituted early and often in the season opener, going three deep at a variety of positions.

"I wanted to get in as many guys in there as we could, especially the younger defensive players because they are going to have to play as we go through the year," Tuberville said.

One younger players, cornerback Neiko Thorpe, saw his first action early in the game and played a significant amount of snaps. He ended up as the team's leading tackler.

"I thought I played pretty well," Thorpe said. "I would grade myself with about a B."

Tailback Tate said he thought he played "okay," but said the execution needs work. "I would give us about a D+ on offense," he said. "We can play better than that."

Auburn jumped out to a 14-0 lead after a quarter without much help from the offense that totaled just 61 yards in the first period.

The first points came on the first offensive possession for the Warhawks when defensive end Michael Goggans scooped and scored from nine yards out on a fumble return after a big hit by Coleman.

Robert Dunn's 66-yard punt return with four seconds left in the opening quarter made the score 14-0. "I finally got one," the senior said with a big smile. "It's something we have been working hard on in practice."

AU led 17-0 at halftime as Wes Byrum made a 33-yard field goal with 1:16 left before intermission to cap an eight-play, 63-yard drive.

The Tigers quickly extended the lead to 24-0 less than a minute into the third period when Brad Lester capped a three-play, 30-yard drive after turnover. Freshman Spencer Pybus recovered the fumble on the kickoff return on a hit by fellow linebacker Merrill Johnson.

The Tigers added a 19-yard field goal by Wes Byrum with 24 seconds left in the third quarter on a 77-yard drive engineered by Chris Todd, who shared duties with Kodi Burns prior to Burns being lost for the rest of the game with a severe cut suffered earlier in the third quarter. Burns is expected to be back next week vs. Southern Miss.

The only score of the final period was a three-yard pass from Todd to Chris Slaughter with 6:49 left to cap an eight play, 78-yard drive.

"We came out kind of slow on offense," Dunn said. "We just have to finish our drives."

Dunn noted that he was surprised the Tigers didn't have more passing yardage, but said, "Not to take anything away from Louisiana-Monroe, but with the schedule we have if you don't have to open up the whole playbook, why do it?"


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