Tigers Top Tech 37-13 in Chizik's Debut

Auburn opened the 2009 football season with a home victory over the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.

Auburn, Ala.--The Gene Chizik Era of Auburn football opened with a 37-13 victory over Louisiana Tech on Saturday night as freshman tailback Onterio McCalebb led the Tigers with 148 rushing yards on 22 carries.

McCalebb became the first Auburn freshman to rush for more than 100 yards in his debut game since 1985 Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson did it in 1986 vs. Wake Forest.

Senior Ben Tate passed the 2,000-yard rushing mark for his career as he gained 117 yards on 20 carries. "That was a lot of fun," Tate said. "It felt great to have two guys rush for more than 100 yards."

The Tigers racked up 556 yards of total offense while allowing the Bulldogs 245.

The game also marked a successful return to action for senior quarterback Chris Todd, who hooked up with Terrell Zachery on a 93-yard touchdown pass, the longest in AU history. Todd's season ended prematurely due to a shoulder problem that required offseason surgery and forced him to miss spring training.

"It was a three route and we ran the same play right before that," Zachery said. "That really set it up well for us. Right off the snap I made a move on the defender and it openeed right up. Chris made the right pass and that was it."

Zachery dropped 10 pounds over the summer to improve his speed. "I am glad I did that," he said with a smile.

The Tigers overcame costly penalties and turnovers to knock off the Bulldogs from the Western Athletic Conference, whose all-time record vs. Auburn dropped to 0-11-1. Auburn was penalized eight times for 87 yards.

The Tigers scored first on a 25-yard Wes Byrum field goal on the opening possession and took the lead for good on the final play of the half, a 49-yarder by Byrum to put the Tigers on top 13-10.

Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said he saw a lot to like as his group racked up 27 first downs, 301 rushing yards and 255 more through the air.

"I thought Onterio played real well tonight and gave us a spark with his quickness," Malzahn said. "I thought the offensive line played well, too."

Malzahn, who coaches the quarterbacks, said he thought that Todd did a good job of managing the offense. The senior completed 17-27 passes for two touchdowns and did not have an interception.

"It was a lot of fun to be back out there and I thought the offense had a good night," said Todd, who was smiling when talking about his pass play with Zachery that was the longest in Auburn history. "That is pretty wild," he said. "Auburn has been around for a long time."

Louisiana Tech quarterback Ross Jenkins was impressed with Auburn's defense. "They are real fast and they came out tough," he said. "We knew we had to match their speed and intensity and I thought we did a pretty good job of doing that in the first half.

"The speed was a factor, but a lot of the mistakes were our fault," he added. "They are a great team and deserved to win."

Auburn scored on its opening possession of the season. The Tigers' fast-paced, shotgun offense moved 69 yards on 13 plays before settling for a 25-yard field goal by Byrum. Eleven of the 13 plays were runs. For the game the Tigers ran the ball 52 times.

Foreshadowing what would be a problem for the Tigers, on second down and six at the Tech eight-yard line offensive tackle Lee Ziemba was called for a false start with Kodi Burns at quarterback in the wildcat formation.

On the next play McCalebb gained five yards, but a Todd pass to Darvin Adams on third down was incomplete and Auburn's first points came on the first of three field goals by Byrum, who is off to a good start in bouncing back from his sophomore slump.

A mysterious pass interference penalty called on Walt McFadden on Tech's opening possession kept the drive alive. It was aided by a pair of facemask penalties. In total, 47 of Tech's 72 yards on the eight-play drive came on penalties.

The Bulldogs pulled ahead 7-3 on a 19-yard pass from Jenkins to Dennis Morris, who caught the ball between a pair of Tiger defenders in the end zone.

Auburn responded with its first touchdown of the season. The Tigers moved the football 66 yards on 10 plays mixing in Burns as the wildcat QB and flanking Todd at wide receiver.

Burns scored on a one-yard keeper after Todd hooked up with Fannin on an eight-yard pass play on third down and seven. Byrum's PAT put the Tigers on top 10-7.

Auburn had a chance to stretch its lead in the second quarter after defensive lineman Nick Fairley recovered a fumble at the Tech 32. However, Auburn gave the ball back five plays later after a Tate fumble that was recovered by Matt Broha at the Tech six with 7:07 left in the half.

The visitors kept the football for 18 plays before settling for a 20-yard field goal with 23 seconds left before halftime to tie the game at 10-10.

After a sky kick gave Auburn possession at its 39, McCalebb gained nine yards on a draw play and Todd threw over the middle for 20 yards to Fannin.

With five seconds left before intermission, Auburn called a timeout and set up a 49-yard field goal that Byrum made to give the Tigers a 13-10 halftime edge.

Malzahn said the quick two-play drive gave the Tigers a lot of momentum going into the dressing room at halftime.

Ben Tate went past the 2,000-yard mark on Saturday night.

After Auburn's defense forced a three-and-out to star the second half, Auburn turned the ball over when Darvin Adams fumbled the football at the Tech 47 after catching a pass for what would have been a first down.

Onterio McCalebb was impressive in his collegiate debut at tailback.

The Tigers got the ball back with 11:47 left in the third quarter when freshman safety Daren Bates made a leaping interception at the two-yard line as fellow safety Zac Etheridge put the heat on the QB with a blitz. Earlier in the quarter, on the first play of the period, Bates dropped a would-be interception with nobody between him and the goal line.

The Tigers cashed in quickly after the turnover. On third down, a perfectly executed sideline route to Zachery caused cornerback Josh Victorian to bite on a pump fake by Todd. Todd's pass was perfect and Zachery was untouched on his way to the end zone. That put the Tigers up 20-10 with 9:59 left in the third quarter.

The lead grew to 23-10 with 4:28 left in the third after an Auburn drive was stalled by a holding call on Mike Berry. The Tigers settled for a 47-yard field goal by Wes Byrum, which he kicked into the wind.

The visitors responded with a long field goal of their own on the next play. Nelson capped a 40-yard drive with a 46-yarder to cut the lead to 23-13 with 52 seconds left in the third quarter. The big play on the drive was a 33-yard QB scramble by Jenkins.

The Tigers slammed the door shut on the visitors with 12:45 left in the final quarter when Todd hooked up on a perfectly thrown 17-yard TD pass to Darvin Adams in the back of the end zone. That capped a nine-play, 72-yard drive to put the Tigers up 30-13.

Auburn added an insurance score with 5:02 left to play on a three-yard run by McCalebb to complete a drive that covered 65 yards in 13 plays.

Etheridge and Craig Stevens led the Tigers in tackles with six solos and two assists apiece. Josh Bynes had five solos and three assists and Antonio Coleman chipped in with four solos and three assists. Coleman had a sack to move into AU's all-time top 10 and Stevens and Mike Blanc added sacks for the Tigers.

Next up for the Tigers is a home game next Saturday night vs. Mississippi State, which cruised to an easy win in its opener vs. Jackson State.
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