The sophomore Burns had scintillating runs of 31 and 58 yards for touchdowns in the second half to seal Auburn's 37-20 victory, the first for the Tigers after four straight losses to even AU's record at 5-5 with Georgia and Alabama remaining to close the Tigers' season.
Tate and Lester note that they were both happy with Burns' production, but realize that the running game production is going to have to step up from their position if Auburn is going to compete with nationally-ranked Georgia and Alabama to close the season.
"We definitely have to do a lot better if we are going to compete with anybody in the SEC," Tate says. "You can't come out expecting your quarterback to run for over 100 yards in a game."
Tate is referring to Burns gaining 158 yards on 13 carries against UTM. He is also making a statement about non-conference Homecoming foe not being on the level of SEC defenses that the Tigers will line up against the next two games.
"I know I need to step it up," says Tate, who netted 42 yards on 10 carries against UTM with a long run of only eight yards. "I had a shot at getting through a hole and my feet slipped out from under me. I'm 100 percent now and have been since the Ole Miss game. I need to produce and find a way to fight for yards."
Tate mentions the game plan last Saturday called for taking advantage of Burns' running ability, especially in the second half with quarterback draws, including the two touchdown runs. "It sort of energized us and led to some better blocking out of the backs to open up the holes," Tate points out.
Tate adds it was also good for the Tigers to line up with a quarterback under center and a fullback as a lead blocker for the deep back as the Tigers used multiple formations against UTM. "It's harder to run from the shotgun," he contends. "You just can't get downhill from the shotgun and you can't get your shoulders squared up like you can running with the quarterback under center."
Lester, who notes he's still bothered by a knee problem, hopes to be at full speed for this week's game against Georgia after picking up 40 yards on seven carries against UTM. "The game plan was for Ben, Mario and me to share the load at running back and put in some more plays to get the ball in Kodi's hands," Lester says of the Homecoming contest. "I've got to finish strong the last two games, but for now it's pretty much running back by committee."
As a senior and native of Georgia, Lester says a victory over Georgia at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday would be "a big win for me. I'm anxious to get out there and compete against them."
Tate is also looking forward to finishing the regular season against Georgia and Alabama. "The win (over UTM) was very, very important because it gets us to .500 and gives us an opportunity to get to a bowl with another win," he says.
"It was also great to get back to singing the Auburn fight song in the dressing room," Tate adds. "It doesn't feel good to be picked to win the SEC West and be at the bottom of the SEC. It is very important for us to go out and finish strong. There will be a lot of emotion against Georgia and Alabama."