Aug 31, 2013
AUBURN, Ala. - Corey Grant, the fastest man in an Auburn football uniform, had nine carries last season, and they all came against New Mexico State and Alabama A&M. So frustrated was Robenson Therezie early last season, that he moved at his own request from cornerback to running back.
On a hot and humid Saturday night, Grant and Therezie were Auburn heroes. They made game-changing plays as the Tigers began the Gus Malzahn era with a 31-24 victory over Washington State at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Grant, who played up the road at Opelika high School, had a 75-yard sprint for Auburn’s first touchdown and finished with 146 yards on nine carries. He didn’t just run in open spaces. He also got tough yards between the tackles.
Therezie, playing the hybrid Star position, intercepted two passes, including one in the end zone when Washington State threatened to tie the game in the fourth quarter. He made seven tackles, six of them unassisted, and broke up a pass.
Grant wasn’t even listed at running back on the Auburn depth chart released earlier in the week. Therezie was listed behind Justin Garrett, but Garrett aggravated a foot injury and didn’t play. Therezie got the start.
And Auburn got a victory that meant oh so much.
No, it wasn’t a thing of beauty. First-time starting quarterback Nick Marshall overthrew Sammie Coates when he was wide-open for what would have been a touchdown. The offense managed to stop itself in the second half when the game could be put away. The defense had good moments and bad against Mike Leach’s air raid offense.
But Marshall got better as he went. After completing 2-of-8 passes in the first half, he completed 7-of-11 in the second half. He did not have a turnover.
The defense, with the game on the line, would not let Washington State score in the fourth quarter and gave up just three points in the second half. Tre Mason had a 100-yard kickoff return. True freshman Montravius Adams got a sack on his first Auburn snap and had a major impact on the interior of the defense, though he made some mistakes, too.
In the second half, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson went almost exclusively to man-to-man defense, and the men in the back responded. They surpassed in one night the number of interceptions they had all last season.
“Man, we had a chance at a lot of others,” Therezie said. “We could have had six or seven picks.”
Regardless, Johnson said it was the defensive backs who shouldered the biggest load.
“I thought our defensive backs were terrific,” Johnson said. “I thought they put us on their backs and carried us.”
And they did that while playing 92 snaps on a night on which the humidity was suffocating and cramps wanted to come.
For a team that finished last season 3-9, it was a victory to celebrate, the first step toward redemption.
“We’ll have to play better to beat Arkansas State next week,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. And he was probably right.
But on the first night of Malzahn’s first season as Auburn head coach, players could smile. They could look to the future with anticipation and hope.
They stood tall when it mattered most, and they sang in the locker room.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: