Tigers take care of business without drama
By ANDY BITTER
AUBURN, Ala. — After giving its fans heart palpitations for three straight weeks, Auburn allowed them to rest easy Saturday.
The No. 10 Tigers didn’t need a huge comeback, fourth-quarter defensive stand or a fortuitous field-goal miss in an easy 52-3 win against Louisiana-Monroe at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“It was a very bizarre feeling, very bizarre,” said Auburn coach Gene Chizik, who’s grown accustomed to nail-biters. “But I will take it every time.”
Auburn (5-0) got everything it wanted out of its final tune-up before getting to the heart of the SEC schedule, building an early lead and getting the backups plenty of work.
Sixty-eight players got in the game for the Tigers, giving the starters down time. Quarterback Cam Newton threw for 245 yards and three touchdowns in 2 1/2 quarters. Defensive end Antoine Carter didn’t play a snap.
The second team took over midway through the third quarter, and the third team finished off the fourth, an important note as Auburn heads into what Chizik called a “brutal” four-game stretch at Kentucky, home against Arkansas and LSU and on the road at Mississippi.
“There are guys who we felt like are bumped and bruised up,” Chizik said. “We have to watch out. It is a long road here before we get any week off. We are just trying to be very prudent on how we proceed.”
The Tigers produced 505 yards of offense, avoiding the slow start that led to 17- and 13-points deficits against Clemson and South Carolina. Onterio McCalebb raced around the edge for a 50-yard touchdown on the game’s second play, scoring after only 32 seconds had elapsed.
Auburn went up 14-0 on its next drive when Newton found a wide-open Emory Blake for a 94-yard touchdown that was the longest play from scrimmage in school history.
“We never want to let a team get hope and string it out through all four quarters,” offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. “When we had time to make plays, we made the plays.”
Mike Dyer’s 3-yard touchdown run and Quindarius Carr’s 16-yard touchdown catch gave Auburn a 31-3 halftime lead.
Newton completed a 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen at the 6:09 mark of the third quarter before exiting.
The dual-threat quarterback showed off only half his skills. Newton, whose 121.3-yard rushing average led the SEC entering the day, didn’t have a designed run all afternoon, finishing with -11 yards rushing after being sacked once.
“There’s no reason to take hits when he doesn’t need to,” center Ryan Pugh said.
“I think it just speaks for itself that I didn’t need to run the ball,” Newton said. “A couple of guys picked up the torch and ran with it.”
Senior tailback Mario Fannin, who has been slowed by a shoulder injury and a fumbling problem, got the most work, running for 89 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown. He got 10 carries, the first time he has reached double digits since his sophomore year.
“I think his confidence is getting back up there,” Chizik said.
Nine players had at least one carry and nine more had at least one reception. Backup quarterbacks Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley made an appearance, although Trotter came out after being shaken up at the end of an 18-yard touchdown run.
Defensively, Auburn allowed 232 passing yards but not much else. ULM quarterback Kolton Browning went 25-for-33 by completing quick, short passes, but the Tigers didn’t give up anything big and limited the Warhawks (1-3) to 38 rushing yards on 33 carries.
“We really wanted to come in and make a statement,” cornerback T’Sharvan Bell said. “No matter what the score was, we just wanted to play hard and do a good job. They only got three. We’re happy with that.”
Auburn forced four turnovers for the second straight week. Safety Zac Etheridge intercepted a pass on a fake field goal, and the reserves recovered three fumbles in the second half.
The Tigers are 5-0 for the second straight season, although last year’s team went into an October nose dive, losing three straight.
“This year’s team is very special and is very capable of taking that extra step rather than taking a step back,” Newton said.
Said Chizik: “Our best game is still lurking out there.”