Auburn Backs Come Up Big In Victory Over Lions

Orlando, Fla.--Eddie Gran's big, big smile said it all.

As the Auburn running backs coach was hugging and being hugged on the slippery turf of the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium after Auburn's 13-9 victory over Penn State on New Year's Day, Gran was more than a little bit thrilled with the performance of his starting backfield.

A pair of Tigers who were out with ankle injuries in Auburn's victory over Alabama in Auburn's last game back in November played key roles in the Tigers' 13-9 whipping of Penn State.

Brown follows center Ben Nowland.

Ronnie Brown was named game MVP with his 37 carries for 184 yards, which produced the game's only two touchdowns. Fullback Brandon Johnson was equally impressive, clearing holes for the sophomore tailback to run through.

"Considering he hadn't carried the ball in a game in a long time, I probably didn't think he could carry the ball that many times," Gran said. "The offensive line did a great job to help and we had our fullback with us again. You can see what a great job Brandon does and what he means to our running game. What an outstanding effort by them all."

When asked about how his ankle held up, Brown said, "I had a pretty good week of practice. The ankle held up pretty strong and it was stable coming into the game. I really felt pretty comfortable."

Brandon Johnson said his ankle bothered him some, but he went the distance and threw a key block on the game winning touchdown. "I just told Ronnie to get behind me and let's go," Johnson said. "He is a great running back who I enjoy playing with. He makes good decisions out there on when to follow me and when to cut back."

Running backs coach Gran said, "Our goal was to out-rush (Penn State's) Larry Johnson and we wanted to get Ronnie 1,000 yards for the season. We were able to do both." Brown finished the year with 1,008 rushing yards.

Penn State's star, Larry Johnson, was limited to just 72 yards on 20 carries. PSU coach Joe Paterno said that it was a frustrating day for his key offensive players against the quick and aggressive Auburn defense. The Penn State quarterback, Zack Mills, completed just 8-24 passes for 67 yards and one interception on the windy day at the Capital One Bowl.

Paterno said he wasn't sure exactly why his offense couldn't put the ball in the end zone, but he added, "I never thought this was going to be an easy football game."

Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville said, "Obviously, Ronnie Brown did a great job, along with our offensive line."

Brown said the offensive line came out and made a statement with a 13-play touchdown drive in the third quarter as Auburn went ahead 7-6. Brown carried the ball 10 times on the drive.

"The offensive line worked hard in the first half and in the second half we went in and made some adjustments and came back ready to play," Brown said. "They opened up some holes."

Brown said trying to outperform Penn State's Heisman candidate, Johnson, was plenty of incentive coming into the game. After the game, Johnson was complaining about not getting the football enough and said he thought Penn State's best chance to win the game was to run him as much as Brown got to run.

"SEC, they go against passing schools so they know how to defend, but they don't know how to take on iso (isolation blocks) and take a pounding," Johnson said. "I don't think we tried to exploit that."

Auburn linebacker Dontarrious Thomas, who was named AU's team defensive most valuable player, raised his eyebrows when told of Johnson's comments that Auburn wasn't a physical team doesn't play in a physical league. "Obviously, he is kind of upset," said Thomas.

The victory improved Auburn's record to 9-4. Brown talked about looking forward to the 2003 season and setting more goals for a team that he predicts will be exciting to watch. Senior cornerback Roderick Hood, who has had to tackle Brown for the past three seasons, agrees and says, "I am going to miss these guys. They are going to be a lot of fun to watch."

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