Sept. 23, 2006
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AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -No. 2 Auburn wasn't playing a highly ranked team again, and it showed.
Without tailback Kenny Irons or much passing, the Tigers eventually wore down Buffalo's defense and then used a late surge for a 38-7 victory Saturday.
Favored by six touchdowns, Auburn (4-0) led by only 10 points until late in the third quarter of a game sandwiched between a physical 7-3 victory over No. 10 LSU and a Thursday game at South Carolina.
"Guys were expecting to be up 30-0 in the first quarter," tailback Brad Lester said.
Instead, the Tigers plodded to a win that only looked effortless on the final scoreboard. Lester ran for 83 yards and two touchdowns in place of Irons. Freshman Ben Tate didn't play until the fourth quarter, but ran for touchdowns of 42 and 28 yards and gained 114 yards on seven carries.
Irons watched his understudies from the sidelines with a sprained toe and ankle, though the offense appeared to limp more than him at times. Coach Tommy Tuberville said he and defensive starters Jonathan Wilhite and Karibi Dede were held out as precautions.
Auburn's conservative game plan helped the Bulls (1-3) keep it a 10-point game until the final minute of the third quarter. It wasn't a particularly inspired performance from a team - and a crowd - drained from last week's big victory.
"When you don't play with emotion, you don't play very well," Tuberville said. "And that's part of the equation. You can't play with it every week. You could tell even with the crowd, everybody was kind of still thinking about last week."
Buffalo was just thinking about hanging in there in its first game against a Southeastern Conference opponent. The Bulls had not played a team ranked higher than 23rd since moving up to Division I-A in 1999.
How close was this one going into the fourth? The two teams each had 13 first downs.
"We came here to play hard and we came here to win the football game," first-year Buffalo coach Turner Gill said. "That's the way I coach and that's the way our players play.
"That's what we talked about all week."
But Tre Smith ran for a 2-yard touchdown with 40 seconds left in the third and Tate took over to finally allow Auburn a more comfortable margin.
Brandon Cox was just 6-of-10 passing for 134 yards with an interception for the Tigers, mostly content to hand off to a series of backs. He left the game one drive into the fourth quarter, and his mobility was hampered by a bruised left leg that was a remnant from the LSU game.
Potentially needing a dominant showing to secure its hold on the No. 2 spot, the Tigers sputtered to a 10-0 halftime lead. And that only came with Robert Dunn's 35-yard punt return to set up a 46-yard field goal by John Vaughn on the final play.
"We kind of woke up in the second half," guard Tim Duckworth said.
Tuberville had said he had no intention of running up a big score just to impress poll voters. He didn't, instead letting his team wear down the Bulls with the ground game.
The Tigers finished with 261 yards rushing against a defense ranked next-to-last in Division I-A against the run.
Auburn's offense finally got going on the opening drive of the second half, capped by Lester's 4-yard touchdown run, making it 17-0. Fullback Carl Stewart caught a pass in the flat and rambled 54 yards to the 14 to set up the TD.
Then the Bulls, pushing around a defense that held LSU to three points last week, mounted a 15-play, 80-yard drive. Drew Willy scrambled away from pressure and hit Evan Wallace for a 5-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal.
It was the first touchdown Auburn had allowed in a span of more than 12 quarters dating back to the opener against Washington State.
James Starks ran 20 times for 66 yards for Buffalo. Willy was 12-for-21 for 111 yards.
The Bulls had their chances in the first half to make it even closer.
They had the ball in Auburn territory three times, failing on fourth down, missing a 30-yard field goal and giving up two sacks to kill another drive.
Tuberville said his players didn't need a tongue lashing at halftime.
"There wasn't a lot of hollering and screaming," he said. "They understood. You have to play with a lot more fire than what we played."