Justin Garrett has a smile as he and Tray Matthews head to the end zone for an Auburn touchdown
By Charles Goldberg
ATLANTA, Ga. ― Justin Garrett's perseverance was rewarded Saturday.
The Auburn linebacker, who has battled through one injury, and then another in his career, won the starting assignment on this opening day of his senior year. He shined.
Garrett picked up and a fumble and raced 82 yards for a touchdown to help Auburn build an early on the way to a 31-24 win over Louisville in the Georgia Dome.
Garrett said he was thinking just one thing as he and safety Tray Matthews raced away from the Louisville players in their jaunt to the end zone.
"I was just hoping," he said, "I wouldn't get caught."
Not even close.
"I was actually running kind of slow. My leg was bothering me a little bit. I was hoping my teammates had blocked somebody," Garrett said.
That apparently wasn't a necessity since he and Matthews broke away from the pack, and eased their way in. Remember how Chris Davis crossed the 50 and picked up an escort from Robinson Therezie and Jonathon Mincy when he returned that missed field goal 109 yards to beat Alabama in 2013?
Garrett's run was like that, only slower.
It was the longest fumble return for an Auburn touchdown since at least 1969 when that record showed up in the record book.
Garrett called his moment in the spotlight a blessing
"I've been through a lot of adversity. It's by senior year and I just stayed positive," he said.
Auburn's defense was positively in control the first 2½ quarters when the Tigers built a 24-0 lead.
"We were just playing assignment football, doing our jobs," Garrett said. "In the second half we kind of stopped doing our jobs and started trying to do other people's jobs. We're going to get that corrected."
Garrett said defensive coordinator Will Muschamp took a simple approach after the game.
"He just said, 'we won. That's all that matters.' We're going to correct everything tomorrow on film. We've got to get better," Garrett said. "All he wants us to do is play fast and play physical. I like that style. I just want to get out there and help my team as much as possible."
Auburn decided right now was a good time for a massive defensive touchdown. http://t.co/xRxvjRuEmx
— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) September 5, 2015
• The game story
• Peyton Barber's big game
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine