The sophomore quarterback gained 158 of the Tigers' 290 ground yards as Auburn celebrated Homecoming with a 37-20 victory over the University of Tennessee-Martin on Saturday.
The victory snapped Auburn's four-game losing streak and evened its record at 5-5. It was the first football meeting ever between the Tigers and the now 7-3 Skyhawks, who came into the game ranked 20th nationally in Division I-AA.
Burns scored on runs of 31 yards in the third quarter and 58 in the fourth quarter. He carried the ball 13 times for the Tigers and virtually every time he tucked the ball under his arm something good happened for the home team. His total was the most rushing yardage for a Tiger since Kenny Irons gained 183 vs. Washington State in in 2006.
The 158 yards by Burns are the most by an Auburn quarterback since Phil Gargis rushed for 160 vs. Georgia in 1974.
"We were trying to do a little more with him," Coach Tommy Tuberville said. "He's not real fast, but he is quick and strong and he's gotten better running the ball."
Commenting on his team's play, Burns said, "We started off real slow, but we picked it up. The main thing is that the guys were blocking real good, but we did not come up with points in the red zone like we should have."
The visitors from the Ohio Valley Conference didn't roll over for the Tigers. Trailing 20-7, the Skyhawks scored just before halftime and again in the third period on pass plays from quarterback Cade Thompson to receiver Mike Hicks to tie the game at 20-20.
The Tigers took the lead for good on the next possession, moving 60 yards on seven plays with Burns scoring from 31 yards out on a strong run on a QB draw play.
Tuberville said it was good to see a happy locker room despite the less than stylish victory.
"It has been a long time since we have won a game," he said. "Our guys are excited, obviously. Tennessee-Martin came to play. They gave us some problems. Their quarterback really did a nice job, but we didn't have a lot of our guys healthy on defense.
"We held most of our defensive line out and I am really proud of six defensive linemen that really played the whole game rotating them in and out. That was a great effort by those kids. We got a little bit tired. We made some plays and got a little bit better.
"Offensivley, Kodi was the difference with his legs running making plays. We threw the ball a little better. We didn't do a lot on offense or defense. We were pretty much vanilla. We were just trying to make plays and, of course, a couple of turnovers hurt us and kickoff coverage hurt us."
Cornerback Walt McFadden said, "Me and Jerraud (Powers) were just talking and we felt like this wasn't our best game at all on defense. I believe we thought we could roll our helmets out there and the receivers would lay down on us. Actually, they played well. We have to get back to work and get on our game. We have to come out ready to play well from play one."
UTM threw underneath on Powers, who was coming back from a hamstring injury and didn't appear to have his normal quickness. He was in on a team-high nine tackles because so many balls were thrown his way.
The Tigers rested starting defensive linemen Tez Doolittle, Sen'Derrick Marks and Antonio Coleman while each recovers from injuries. The starting group of Jake Ricks, Zach Clayton and Antoine Carter didn't consistently get a good pass rush on the UTM quarterback. As a result he threw underneath the Auburn coverage and completed 27-46 passes for 285 yards with two TDs and two interceptions.
Senior Tristan Davis returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown on Senior Day.
All of the points in the first quarter were the result of the kicking game starting with the opening kickoff that Tristan Davis returned 95 yards for a touchdown. The Tigers blocked the play so well the senior wasn't touched on the way to the end zone.
However, the Tigers gave away their lead on a major blunder with 12:03 left in the opening period. A high punt that sailed 53 yards with the help of a strong wind from the south pushed Robert Dunn back to just in front of the north goal line where he mishandled the punt. After a big scramble for the football in the end zone, UTM's Chip Martin came out with the ball and a touchdown.
The Tigers regained the lead at the 7:36 mark of the first quarter as Wes Byrum made a 48-yard field into the wind after the Tigers started at the UTM 40 following a seven-yard punt return by Chris Slaughter.
Byrum made the lead 13-7 with a 44-yard field goal with 2:13 left in the period. That capped a drive that covered 39 plays in eight yards.
Each team scored a touchdown in the second quarter on a long drive.
The Tigers moved 85 yards on 16 plays, keeping the ball for eight minutes and 19 seconds before Brad Lester scored on first and goal at the one running behind right guard. That put AU 20-7 with 7:07 left the in half.
Auburn had a chance to increase the lead on its next possession, but Byrum, with the wind at his back, was wide right on a 46-yard field goal try.
The Skyhawks then executed their hurry-up offense beautifully, moving 71 yards on nine plays in just 1:52 to score with 36 seconds left in the half. However, the PAT bounced off the right upright leaving the Tigers on top 20-13. The score came on a seven-yard pass from Cade Thompson to Mike Hicks.
Hicks and Thompson connected for the next score for the Skyhawks, who moved 39 yards after a Brad Lester fumble to tie the game at 20 with 8:59 left in the third quarter.
That lead lasted less than three minutes before Burns scored on a 31-yard run. Auburn stretched the lead to 30-20 with 14:18 left in the final quarter on a 24-yard Byrum field goal to cap a drive that covered 54 yards on eight plays.
The Tigers added an insurance touchdown with 6:44 left when Burns raced through the UTM defense for a 58-yard touchdown on a play that covered 85 yards on seven carries. That put the Tigers up 37-20.
Auburn added some suspense late in the game with the reserves in when freshman Eric Smith lost a fumble that Dontrel Miller recovered and returned 15 yards to the Auburn six. However, on the next play Neiko Thorpe jumped a sideline route and intercepted the pass, returning it to the Auburn 43.
From there Neil Caudle and the second offense drove the ball to the UTM 10 where they let time expire.
"It was very important to win this game," said sophomore defensive end Carter. "You really wanted to win this one for your seniors on Senior Day. We need the last three wins."
Auburn tallied 452 yards of total offense to 323 for the Skyhawks, who did almost all of their damage throwing the ball with only 38 of their yards on the ground.
UTM head coach Jason Simpson said, "Obviously,, it was going to be a tough road for us to run the football on them. our game plan was to come in and use our receivers and I thought for the past part we were very accurate."
Next up for the Tigers is a home game next Saturday vs. Georgia.