It was a subdued celebration Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
With a sparse crowd left in attendance, Auburn gained bowl eligibility by beating Idaho 56-34. It is the third straight season under coach Gus Malzahn the Tigers are heading to the postseason.
Auburn pulled away early against Idaho by scoring more points in the first half, 35, than it had all season.
The Vandals scored a pair fourth quarter touchdowns to make the final score look a little less lopsided, but the game was already well in-hand in the third quarter when Auburn started rotating in its backups.
“We got the chance to play a lot of guys late in the game,” Malzahn said. “It got a little sloppy, but it’s a win. We wanted to get our main guys out of there early in the fourth quarter. We are happy that we came out of this one pretty healthy and we got the chance to play a lot of different guys.”
Jeremy Johnson started at quarterback for a third straight week and had his best game of the season accounting for four total touchdowns in three quarters of work.
The junior finished 13 of 19 for 163 yards with two passing touchdowns. He also ran the ball five times for 23 yards with a pair of scores to help Auburn score more than 50 for the first time since last year’s win over San Jose State.
“I thought he did a very good job in the air and did a good job on the ground,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “He managed the offense really well. He made a couple really good decisions on the zone read.”
Before coming out of the game, Johnson orchestrated scoring drives on Auburn’s first two possessions of the second half.
After Idaho turned it over on downs to open the third quarter, Johnson capped off a short five-play, 31-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Tony Stevens. It was the Stevens’ first touchdown of the year and second in his career.
Johnson set up a 2-yard touchdown run midway through the quarter by hitting a 56-yard pass to Ricardo Louis. The deep throw to Louis was Auburn’s longest completion this season.
Louis caught a similar pass from Johnson that was overturned in the second quarter. He had four catches for 90 yards with a touchdown.
“Coach has been saying they were giving me chances down field and they did that,” Louis said. “I was just trying to make a play on it. I need that moving forward for me and Jeremy to get that rhythm back that we had in camp and the spring going deep. Once we get that back I don’t think we can be stopped.”
Idaho’s focus to take away Auburn’s ground game didn’t work either.
Auburn finished with 297 rushing yards with Jovon Robinson leading the way. Robinson finished a yard shy of breaking the 100-yard mark for a second time this season.
Robinson, Peyton Barber and Roc Thomas all scored rushing touchdowns.
Auburn’s defense complimented the strong offensive performance by forcing three turnovers including a 48-yard interception return for a touchdown by Rudy Ford in the second quarter.
Ford picked it off at Idaho’s sideline and cut all the way across the field to score in front of Auburn’s bench. The junior crossed the goal line with a group of teammates at his back cheering him on.
“I saw some blockers and just hit the hole and took off,” Ford said. “As soon as I caught it, I just turned up the field and tried to get as many yards as I can.”
Jonathan Jones also intercepted a pass, Tre Williams recovered a fumble off a missed snap and the defense had three sacks.
* Central High School alum Jonathan Wallace and Tucker Tuberville both rotated in at quarterback. Tuberville is the son of former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. The elder Tuberville is the current coach at Cincinnati. He made the trip to Auburn to watch his son play following a 65-27 loss Friday night to South Florida.
* Auburn ran the ball well with two backups in the starting lineup on the offensive line. Robert Leff started at left tackle for Shon Coleman and Devonte Danzey starter at center for Austin Golson.
“We tried to be (physical up front),” Malzahn said. “We thought we had some depth at the first of the year. Danzey to come in there and have his first start at center, I thought he did a very solid job. Shon Coleman we held out and Robert Left did a good job in his absence.”
* Auburn had five players play for the first time Saturday including Tuberville, Tucker Brown, Daniel Pond, Logan Rice and Lawyer Tillman.