Aug 31, 2013
Corey Grant breaks free on his 75-yard touchdown run (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Every time Washington State scored, Auburn had the answer.
Tre Mason answered a Cougar touchdown with a 100-yard kickoff return. Corey Grant answered another TD with a 75-yard on the next play from scrimmage.
Those big plays, and three interceptions, gave Gus Malzahn a victory in his first game as Auburn's head coach, a hard-fought 31-24 win in front of 85,095 fans in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
It wasn't easy. Washington State was intercepted in the end zone with 4 1/2 minutes left. The Tigers had to turn back the Cougars again in Auburn territory with two minutes left. Auburn's three interceptions were one more than the Tigers had last season.
Mason said he told special teams coach Scott Fountain he'd return a kickoff for a touchdown. He did, after not returning a kickoff last season. He also scored on an 8-yard run for good measure. And Grant? The speedy runner who had nine carries last season led Auburn with 146 yards rushing and that TD.
It was a change of season, a change of fortune, for sure.
"Corey can really run, and I think everybody saw that," Malzahn said. "We've just got find ways to get him the ball."
Malzahn did, handing off to him the exact number of times in Auburn's first game as he had all last year.
Malzahn said he'd wonder how Auburn would handle the tough times. He was happy with the answer.
"I've been preaching since I've been here how we'd handle adversity. There was a lot of adversity, and we found a way to overcome it," Malzahn said.
The game's wild first half — including a tricky and successful 2-point conversion by Malzahn — settled down in the second half. Cody Parkey kicked three field goals for Auburn, and that's all the points the Tigers scored.
Auburn trailed 7-0 and 14-8. The Tigers led by 25-21 at the half. The Tigers' biggest lead was 7. Washington State was throwing into the end zone late, being stopped by Robenson Therezie's second interception of the game.
"He was tired, but he found a way, especially that one late. It was a huge play," Malzahn said.
Auburn stopped the Cougars one last time when they ran out of downs with two minutes left.
There were 46 points scored in the first half. Nine in the second half.
"Our defensive coaches did a great job adjusting," Malzahn said.
Malzahn barely took time reflecting on his first win on his return to Auburn after serving as the offensive coordinator from 2009-11. Instead, he talked of the game and his players.
"I'm very proud of the team. They found a way to win," he said.
It was a game that Malzahn could like, at least with the running game. The Tigers rushed for 297 yards. But first-time starter Nick Marshall got off to a slow start and completed 10-of-19 passes for 99 yards.
Malzahn agreed that Marshall may have had first-game jitters. "But that's to be expected. I think a lot of our guys had jitters. But he settled down."
Marshall hit 2-of-8 passes in the first half, 8-of-11 passes in the second half.
"There were a couple of things communications-wise that we'll get better on," Malzahn said.
Malzahn said the Tigers were "average" executing his fast-paced offense. But the defense, and the defensive line, got better as the game went on, especially when the Tigers turned to some of their freshmen defensive linemen. Montravius Adams made some big plays, collecting a sack on his first play.
"It felt great. It was my first play of the game, and I didn’t want to let the team down," Adams said. "At the snap of the ball, my only focus was to push down the quarterback, and I did.”
"He was in the backfield a lot," Malzahn added. And the young defensive linemen overall, "gave us some energy."
And at the end, the Tigers could celebrate.
“We sang the fight song when we all got to the locker room," Adams said. "Everybody was just happy. It was a great way to kick off the season and set the tone for next week."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine