Auburn scored two touchdowns in a 17-13 loss against Georgia on Saturday, both by running back Mario Fannin.
But when the game was on the line, the sophomore never left the bench.
Auburn fans had plenty of second-guessing to do in the aftermath of their team's fourth SEC loss by a touchdown or less, wondering why the Tigers' best offensive playmaker not named Kodi Burns wasn't prominently — or even remotely — involved in the final 8 1/2 minutes.
“We hadn't had enough time with him in terms of protections and those things,” head coach Tommy Tuberville said Sunday. “He's getting better and better. . . . He's not quite there yet.”
Fannin did everything else well in his first career start, combining for 107 rushing and receiving yards in what Tuberville called Fannin's “best day as an Auburn Tiger.”
He scored a touchdown on a 52-yard pass from Burns out of the backfield to get Auburn on the board near the end of the first quarter.
Early in the fourth, Fannin broke free on a run up the middle, put on the brakes near the 10-yard line to juke two Georgia defenders, cut left and beat them to the pylon for a 35-yard touchdown that put the Tigers up 13-10.
But it was the last time he played on offense in the game.
After Georgia took a 17-13 lead on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to A.J. Green, Auburn had two possessions with a chance to win the game. Fannin was replaced on both of them by junior Ben Tate, who finished with only 49 total yards.
Tuberville claimed the situation dictated the switch. On its final two drives, Auburn ran 21 plays. Only four of those were runs by a back. The Tigers threw the ball 15 times and needed someone who could help protect Burns. Fannin, who briefly switched to receiver in the offseason, has been back at tailback full-time for only a few weeks.
“Ben's been there and done that,” Tuberville said. “He understands it a lot better.”
Auburn came up empty on both drives. On its first try, Burns' fade pattern to Montez Billings on fourth-and-2 fell incomplete in the end zone with 4:07 remaining.
The Tigers got the ball back and drove 66 yards in the final minute before stalling at Georgia's 14-yard line. Burns and Tate didn't connect on a lofted fourth-down pass in the corner of the end zone, cutting short Auburn's upset bid.
“We don't play for moral victories,” Tuberville said. “Going into a game like that, we needed to win for a lot of reasons. We needed to finish a game. We just didn't quite finish.”
It's part of a recurring theme. The Tigers scored zero points on four drives that got inside the Bulldogs' 24-yard line, missing a field goal, losing a Burns fumble and turning it over on downs twice.
For the season, Auburn ranks dead last of 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in red zone efficiency, scoring on 57 percent of their opportunities. Nobody else is below 64 percent.
“Sooner or later you've got to score some points on offense,” Tuberville said. “That's the reason I tried to change offenses this year, because you can't live off a kicker and a defense forever. Sooner or later you've got to start scoring some points. . . . It's just frustrating.”
Auburn came out of Saturday's game with two players nursing knee injuries — tight end Tommy Trott and place-kicker Wes Byrum.
Byrum will probably will miss Auburn's Nov. 29 matchup at No. 1 Alabama, making sophomore walk-on Morgan Hull the kicker “unless (Byrum) makes a miraculous recovery,” Tuberville said.