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'We can build upon this': takeaways, explosive plays in Auburn notebook
'We're starting to play up to our potential,' says Gus Malzahn, after Auburn's 51-14 victory at Missouri.
Sept. 24, 2017

By Jeff Shearer

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Just about everyone in the stadium assumed it was an incomplete pass, but Marlon Davidson knew better.

“When I saw that bag on the ground, I just took off and went and got the ball,” said Davidson, whose fumble recovery and return set up Kerryon Johnson’s fourth touchdown in Auburn’s 51-14 win at Missouri. “Just making a good play at a good time.”

Under pressure from Jeff Holland and Nick Coe, Missouri quarterback Drew Lock appeared to attempt a pass, but a review upheld the officials’ ruling of a fumble rather than an incompletion. Davidson returned the fumble to Missouri’s 20, with Johnson scoring four plays later to give Auburn a 28-0 lead in the second quarter.

“Like y’all know, I’m never the type of person to give up on a play, anyway,” said Davidson, who added four tackles including a tackle for loss. “I was just having fun.”

After winning on Homecoming despite a negative-five turnover margin, Auburn’s defense made four takeaways at Missouri, while the Tigers’ offense played turnover-free.

Daniel Thomas and Tyrone Truesdell also recovered fumbles, and Carlton Davis made an interception.

“I told y’all that was unacceptable,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said of the miscues against Mercer. “It was very unusual for us. Our guys, they responded and they protected the football, and that’s how you’ve got to win. In this league, you can’t turn the football over.”



Go long

Jarrett Stidham set the tone on Auburn’s first offensive play, connecting with Kyle Davis for a 58-yard pass that led to Johnson’s first touchdown.

Stidham found Will Hastings for 46 yards in the second quarter to set up Johnson’s third touchdown. In the third quarter, Stidham hit Nate Craig-Myers for a 57-yard TD on a one-play drive for Auburn’s final touchdown.

“We figured at some point our breakthrough game was going to come,” said Stidham, who completed 13 of 17 passes for 218 yards and one TD. “Tonight, we felt like this was the night. It worked out for us.”

Malik critique

With the victory secured, Auburn played several backups, including quarterback Malik Willis, who made his debut.

“It was good to get him some experience,” Malzahn said. “There’s nothing like experience. Obviously, he’s going to play from here on out, and he’ll get nothing but better.”

Willis gained 12 yards on his longest run. He completed 3 of 4 passes. Stidham had words of encouragement for the freshman, who was promoted to backup QB earlier in the week.

“Like I told Malik, ‘You’re one play away from being the starter,’” Stidham said. “He came with a great attitude this week. Really positive. I thought he performed really well. That’s his first dose of college football.

“They ran a little bit more read option stuff with him, unlike me, because he can actually move a little bit.”

Dunn debuts in starting lineup

Casey Dunn started at center with Austin Golson playing right tackle, the same lineup Auburn used against Mercer after an injury to Darius James.

“It was awesome,” said Dunn, a graduate transfer from Jacksonville State. “Especially in that SEC opener and coming out with a big win. It’s always great. I think we executed really well. We were talking about having a chip on our shoulder all week and making a breakthrough and I think we rose to the challenge this week.”

Daniel Carlson delivered three field goals, from 41, 52 and 54 yards.

“He’s back,” Malzahn said. “And I’d like to think our team is. We’re starting to play up to our potential. I think we played well in all three phases, on the road in this league. We can build upon this. I think we showed tonight what we’re capable of. Now, we’ve got to keep building upon it and keep improving.”

“Coach Malzahn preached on that the whole week, ‘Let’s have a complete game. Offense, defense and special teams,’” said safety Tray Matthews, who had six tackles. “We completed the mission.”

Their confidence bolstered by a three-phase victory, Auburn returns to Jordan-Hare Saturday at 5 p.m. to host Mississippi State.

“We’re excited,” Matthews said. “We were thinking about it right after the game. We’re onto the next game already.”

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:

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