Behind a stifling defense and a withering, three-headed ground attack, Auburn rolled to an easy 35-7 Southeastern Conference win over Vanderbilt Saturday before 82,657 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Coming off a rousing win over Florida, the Tigers (4-2, 2-1 SEC) showed no sign of a hangover in beating the Commodores for the thirteenth straight time.
The Commodores (3-2, 1-2) meanwhile might be on the verge of a quarterback controversy after starter Chris Nickson had another poor outing in the first half (5-of-16 passing for 38 yards). He was replaced in the second half by sophomore Mackenzi Adams, who completed 4-of-9 passes and directed the team's only scoring drive in the fourth quarter.
Afterwards, head coach Bobby Johnson hinted that the starting job might be up for re-evaluation in the coming week.
"Chris didn't have a good day," said Johnson. "We went with Mackenzi in the second half and gave him an opportunity to get in there and do some good things. We will examine the situation and see what we are going to do.
"You can't blame it all on Chris, but our quarterback is key and a very important part of our offense, and it is important for him to execute."
For the second time this season, the coaches pulled Nickson from a game after a number of his throws were egregiously errant. With Nickson misfiring, the Commodores went 3-and-out on five straight first-half possessions, and could only watch as Auburn mounted a 28-0 lead.
"[The incompletions] got me out of my rhythm," acknowledged Nickson, who stoically faced the media afterwards. "It is hard to get back in the groove and keep playing when you have so many incompletions in a row."
It was a day of few positives for Vanderbilt (3-2, 1-2), which remains in need of three more wins in order to qualify for bowl eligibility.
The Auburn tailback trio of Ben Tate, Brad Lester and Mario Fannin combined to lead Auburn to 239 rushing yards. The Tigers scored on four of their first five possessions and were in complete control with 3:29 left in the second quarter when a 17-yard run by Lester gave them a 28-0 lead.
Meanwhile the Auburn defense bottled up Earl Bennett, but couldn't keep him from breaking the school record for receptions (200 by Keith Edwards). Bennett's 4 catches (for 31 yards) gave him 202 for his career, only 6 short of Craig Yeast's SEC record (208).
"It is good to break the record, but I would much rather have a win," said Bennett.
Moving the ball almost at will on Vanderbilt's defense, Auburn's offense took control in the first quarter with a pair of long touchdown drives to put the Tigers up 14-zip.
After the Tigers tacked on two more touchdowns in the second quarter and another in the third, Myron Lewis gave the team a spark with an interception of Auburn's Brandon Cox. Lewis returned the ball to the Tiger 26, but the offense couldn't capitalize.
In the final quarter, relief signal caller Adams helped Vandy avoid the shutout. Aided by some tough running by Jared Hawkins and Jeff Jennings, and a pair of pass interference calls in the red zone, Vandy drove 91 yards in 15 plays to cut the final margin to 35-7. Cassen Jackson-Garrison got the score on a 1-yard plunge.
Third-string QB Richard Kovalcheck got into the game in mop-up duty for the team's final possession.
"Vanderbilt has a good team," said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. "Bobby Johnson has done a good job of bringing his team to another level. They came in here with higher expectations than what happened today. They just caught a pretty good football team getting better and making improvements."
The Commodores return to Vanderbilt Stadium next Saturday for a 5 p.m. CT Homecoming game vs. Georgia. ESPN2 will televise the game nationally.
"We are going to examine this game closely," said Johnson. "We are going to challenge our team. We have a lot of football to play this year.
"This is a tough pill to swallow, and I thought we would compete better and I thought we had a chance to come here and have a great game. We didn't do either."
- Auburn has now taken 13 straight victories from Vanderbilt in the sparsely played series since the Commodores' win in the 1955 Gator Bowl. The Tigers edged ahead in the all-time series, 20-19-1.
- Jeff Jennings returned to action with a heavily taped ankle after missing the last two games. He rushed for 35 yards on 9 carries.
- Starting linebacker Brandon Bryant left the game in the second quarter with a serious-looking leg injury and did not return.
- In honor of Auburn's 1957 national championship team, Auburn wore white jerseys at home and decal-less helmets for the first time in many years. Vanderbilt wore gold jerseys and black pants, a combination usually seen only at Vanderbilt Stadium.
- Auburn running back Brad Lester returned to action after a 5-game suspension. The junior gained 77 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.