AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges stood on the sideline with quarterbacks Brandon Cox and Kodi Burns by him.
Just as Saturday’s game resumed from a television timeout, Borges gave the nod to his freshman quarterback, sending Burns out onto the field to the joyous roar of an Auburn crowd eager for change.
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Burns did his job, sparking Auburn’s stagnant offense with 87 yards rushing and 65 yards passing. However, he didn’t solve all Auburn’s problems — he coughed up the ball on a sack after holding onto it just a bit too long, and he threw an interception which set up Mississippi State’s go-ahead touchdown in a 19-14 loss.
"I thought Kodi gave us an opportunity, but when you only have so much offense you can run, eventually, they caught up to it," Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville said.
Burns knocked the Bulldogs for a loop early, but they adjusted by the latter stages of the game. With the Tigers down by five, offensive coordinator Al Borges turned to his fifth-year senior Brandon Cox for a final drive.
Before that, Cox said his role became "cheerleader."
"I wasn’t getting it done," said Cox, who threw two interceptions on his first two plays. "I was on the sideline trying to keep everybody going."
Burns said Cox helped him throughout the game. He also defended Cox, who was booed vociferously by the Auburn fans after the second interception, which was thrown into triple coverage.
"He was encouraging me a lot," Burns said. "Since I’ve been here, he’s been like a big brother to me, telling me the offense and helping me out. I look up to him. When they kind of booed Brandon, I was down because that’s the leader of the team, and I don’t like that at all."
Borges also praised Cox for his demeanor on the sidelines.
"He was great," Borges said. "He’s a solid character guy. He talked to the kid and encouraged him. I admire that."
Borges said the plan was to insert Burns during certain situations and bring him along slowly. The two interceptions by Cox rushed along the game plan.
"I expected to play a lot," Burns said. "They had me on scout team, and I think I did pretty good, and a lot of the guys saw what I could do. Over time, I earned a little respect from my teammates."
Where the Tigers go from here remains unclear. Neither Tuberville nor Borges nor the players wanted to commit to anything. How much the Tigers use Burns may depend on how quickly he can improve his knowledge of the offense. He said he has about 75 percent of it down, and coaches allowed him to run more of the offense as he proved himself Saturday.
"Learning this thing is a lot of repetitions," Burns said. "It takes time to get used to the receivers, get used to the offensive line. The more repetitions I get, the better I’ll be."
That’s definitely what the Tigers need.