AUBURN, Ala. — Freshman safety Daren Bates was expected to be the only newcomer to start for Auburn in Saturday’s season opener against Louisiana Tech. As it turned out, junior college transfer Nick Fairley joined him.
Fairley, a 6-foot-5, 293-pound sophomore from Copiah-Lincoln Community College, started for Mike Blanc alongside Jake Ricks at defensive tackle and turned in a solid performance.
With 8:43 left before the half, Ricks caused Louisiana Tech quarterback Ross Jenkins to fumble. Fairley pounced on the ball, giving Auburn possession at the Bulldogs’ 32. The Tigers did not capitalize, however, giving the ball back on a Ben Tate fumble.
Fairley finished the first half with three tackles.
Other first-time Tigers starters included wide receivers Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery, linebacker Adam Herring and right tackle Andrew McCain.
With a 9-yard run on a draw play in the second quarter, Tate became the 13th player in Auburn history to rush for 2,000 career yards.
Tate entered the game in 14th place with 1,959 rushing yards. He passed Secdrick McIntyre (1973-76), who finished his career with 1,992 yards. Tate had 10 carries for 52 yards in the first half.
Herring started in place of Eltoro Freeman at weak-side linebacker. Herring only returned to practice last week after being out the previous nine months because of a heel injury that required surgery last December. He made two first-half tackles.
No reason was given for Freeman’s absence. The junior college transfer was banged up throughout preseason practice, dealing with a hamstring problem and a wrist injury that required him to wear a cast for most of August. He was not spotted on the sidelines during the game.
Gene Chizik wanted to eliminate mistakes in his first game as Auburn’s head coach, but the Tigers had several that prolonged Louisiana Tech’s two first-half scoring drives.
Auburn appeared to have the Bulldogs stopped after an incompletion on a high pass in the first quarter, but Walt McFadden was flagged on a questionable pass interference call. Chizik gave the sideline official an earful after the play.
Zac Etheridge and Michael Goggans were later flagged for separate face mask penalties. In all, Louisiana Tech got 45 penalty yards on the drive, capitalizing with a Jenkins touchdown pass to Dennis Morris that made it 7-3 with five minutes left in the first quarter.
Goggans had another face mask on a third-down play in the second quarter that kept a Bulldogs drive alive. Louisiana Tech kicked a field goal to tie the game at 10 just before halftime.
Out of action
Freshman defensive end Nosa Eguae did not dress, standing on the sideline with his right foot in a protective boot. Eguae was listed as the backup defensive end to Antonio Coleman.
Defensive back D’Antoine Hood (Central-Phenix) was in uniform but not in pads on the sidelines. He had been slowed all preseason by a high-ankle sprain.
Three players whose status has been up in the air this preseason — wide receiver Philip Pierre-Louis, defensive lineman Cam Henderson and defensive end Antoine Carter — did not dress for the game, nor were they on the sidelines.
Wide receiver Tim Hawthorne (foot), safety Mike McNeil (leg) and linebacker Spencer Pybus (unknown injury), who have been out all preseason, did not dress but were at the game.
Mario Fannin muffed his first attempt as a punt returner, knocking the ball up into the air deep in Auburn territory during the second quarter before a scrum of players piled on it. Chris Humphries alertly jumped on the ball as the Tigers maintained possession. … The teams did not participate in the pre-game handshake suggested by the American Football Coaches Association as a sign of sportsmanship. … PK Wes Byrum made two first-half field goals, including a 49-yarder that gave Auburn 13-10 lead heading into the half. That gave him 30 career field goals, ninth in Tigers history. … Several Auburn players made their debuts, including defensive linemen Dee Ford and Derrick Lykes, running back Onterio McCalebb, wide receivers Jay Wisner and DeAngelo Benton and cornerback Demond Washington. On special teams, wide receiver Emory Blake, offensive linemen John Sullen and Jorell Bostrom all got on the field.