Au-burned

AUBURN, Ala. – The Mountaineers' biggest non-conference tilt of the season was delayed for over an hour by persistent lightning and a torrential downpour. In the second half, WVU drowned itself in a flood of turnovers.

West Virginia turned the ball over six times, including four interceptions by quarterback Jarrett Brown. The miscues were ultimately too much to overcome, as Auburn pulled away late for a 41-30 victory at a sold-out Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday night.

The Mountaineer quarterback's most significant interception was his last. The strong-armed senior threw a poor pass on a screen to Noel Devine that was picked off and returned 15 yards for a touchdown by AU's Craig Stevens.

Brown finished 18-of-32 passing for 221 yards, one touchdown and the four picks. He was only 6-of-15 in the second half and threw three of his errant tosses in the game's final 15 minutes.

The quarterback's final pick, which came on the second play of a potential WVU game-winning drive with 3:41 left, sealed the outcome of a game in which mistakes doomed the Mountaineers.

"The turnovers definitely hurt us," said wide receiver Bradley Starks. "Hats off to Auburn – they played a heck of a game. They made plays when it counted most."

The visitors received the opening kickoff and promptly quieted the vast majority of the third-largest crowd to ever watch them play in person (87,451).

Brown escaped from pressure on the third play of the game and threw a perfectly-placed bomb on the run to Bradley Starks for a 58-yard gain to the AU 1-yard line.

Two plays later, Devine plunged in from that distance to end a five play, 60 yard drive and give West Virginia a 7-0 lead.

After Auburn was forced to punt, WVU quickly went back on the attack.

Brown escaped what appeared to be a sure sack and turned it into an 8-yard gain. On the next play, Devine raced up the middle of the field, keeping his balance after multiple attempts at "shoestring" tackles and pulling away for a 71-yard touchdown.

Less than five minutes into the game, it was 14-0 in favor of the visitors. The orange-clad crowd was in stunned silence.

The Tigers went to the air on their ensuing drive to move the ball and found success.

Chris Todd hit Eric Smith for a 28-yard gain on a third-and-16 play to put his team in WVU territory. Two plays later, he found Terrell Zachery for another 15 yards. The drive stalled, however, and AU had to settle for a 46-yard Wes Byrum field goal to draw within 14-3.

While a 44-yard kickoff return from Mark Rodgers put the offense in good position once more, the Tigers got to Brown on the first play of the ensuing drive. Mike Blanc forced the signal-caller to fumble, and Antonio Coleman pounced on the ball at the Mountaineers' 45-yard line.

Six plays later, Auburn was in the end zone. Todd hit Darvin Adams for a 19-yard completion to enter the red zone, and on the next play he went back to Adams for a 16-yard touchdown toss.

The scoring continued at the same torrid pace the rains had earlier.

West Virginia drove 74 yards on its next possession, as Ryan Clarke ran for four yards on third-and-one to keep things alive. On the next play, Brown found Alric Arnett for a 26-yard gain to the AU 6-yard line. The quarterback then found Jock Sanders through the air for a score from that distance to extend the lead to 21-10.

The defenses finally got involved at that point, as the teams traded punts and then exchanged turnovers. Todd threw an errant pass that ended up in the hands of Ovid Goulbourne, who returned the ball to the Auburn 19-yard line. Two plays later, Brown underthrew his intended receiver and the Tigers' Neiko Thorpe lept into the air and came down with the ball.

Unlike the Mountaineers, AU converted on its takeaway. Todd found Eric Smith down the sideline for a 37-yard gain to put the Tigers in WVU territory, but a false start penalty helped kill the drive. Byrum nailed a 42-yard kick to bring the advantage down to 21-13.

Penalties stymied West Virginia on its next drive, as a block in the back eliminated much of a long run by Brown. The offense then appeared to convert on third-and-15, but Brown's shovel pass to Devine was also partially called back on a hold committed down field.

After the ensuing punt, Gus Malzahn's high-tempo offense went into overdrive and pounded away at the WVU defenders. Todd hit Adams once more for a four-yard touchdown to cap the 11 play, 68-yard drive that only took 3:24 off the clock due to the offense's quick snaps.

Onterio McCalebb and Ben Tate each carried four times on the drive, which narrowed the Mountaineers' lead to a single point at 21-20, where the score would remain at the halftime break.

West Virginia out-gained the Tigers 291-209 in the opening half, but 219 of those Mountaineer yards came in the first quarter. Jeff Casteel's defense limited the rushing success of Malzahn's attack, holding AU to only 50 yards rushing on 20 first half carries.

The Mountaineers quickly reclaimed momentum in the second half, forcing AU to punt after tackling Ben Tate for a six-yard loss and then sacking Todd for a loss of six more on third down.

The WVU offense then went on the march. A Bradley Starks pass to Jock Sanders, set up by a lateral from Jarrett Brown, gained 31 yards and put his team in position at the Auburn 21-yard line. Three plays later, Noel Devine rushed in from 12 yards out to give the Mountaineers a 27-20 lead.

Redshirt freshman kicker Tyler Bitancurt missed the resulting point-after, his first miscue of the young season.

Auburn promptly struck back, as a simple screen pass from Todd to Mario Fannin went 82 yards for a touchdown.

Pat Lazear sold out on a blitz of Todd, who lofted the pass over the linebacker's hands and sent Fannin on a long footrace. He went largely untouched and raced into the end zone, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Wes Byrum's kick tied the game for the first time at 27-27.

The Mountaineers' offense answered the quick strike with a long drive. Brown converted on two third downs, running for six yards when he needed five on the first, then hitting Wes Lyons for 13 yards on a third-and-10.

The drive stalled at the Tigers' 11-yard line, as Brown was forced to throw away attempts on second and third downs. Bitancurt hit a 28-yard field goal to put his team back on top at 30-27. The 14 play march covered 52 yards.

After the ensuing AU drive stalled and the Tigers failed to convert on a fourth down conversion attempt in West Virginia territory, Brown threw his second interception of the night only two plays later.

Jake Ricks grabbed the ball for the home team, and Todd found Adams for a 17-yard score only three plays later to give Auburn its first lead of the game at 34-30 with 12:07 to play.

The second of Brown's three picks in the fourth quarter came on the next WVU drive, as miscommunication between the signal-caller and Wes Lyons resulted in an easy pick on a play in which Lyons appeared to be open.

While the Tigers went to the ground to try to run time off the clock, the Mountaineer defense held at its 39-yard line and forced AU to punt with just under four minutes remaining.

The pooch kick attempt by Clinton Durst sailed into the end zone to give West Virginia the ball at its own 20 with a chance to drive and win the game, but Brown's final pick two plays later and the resulting touchdown return by Stevens sealed the outcome.

Auburn's ballyhooed rushing attack was largely ineffective, as the Tigers gained only 100 yards on the ground on 41 attempts. Todd's aerial attack was where the home team made hay, as he was 16-of-31 passing for 284 yards and four touchdowns, three of which went to Adams.

"We did what we planned to do," said WVU linebacker J.T. Thomas. "We contained the rush. We didn't stop it totally, but we contained it. We put them in the situation we wanted them to be in, and we just did not execute."


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