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Tate, No. 10 Auburn coast past La. Monroe

AUBURN – Ben Tate ran for 115 yards on 13 carries and No. 10 Auburn scored touchdowns on defense and special teams in a 34-0 opening win over Louisiana-Monroe Saturday night.

The Tigers scarcely needed to pass in debuting Tony Franklin’s new spread offense, resorting to a still punishing ground game and defense while alternating quarterbacks on every series for much of the game.

Michael Goggans scored on a 9-yard fumble return and Robert Dunn added a 66-yard punt return for a TD in the first quarter – the latter breaking the nation’s longest drought. It was more than enough to ensure that the Warhawks wouldn’t duplicate last season’s upset at Alabama, which had been only their third win in 33 tries against Southeastern Conference opponents.

Kodi Burns opened the game at quarterback in a decision coach Tommy Tuberville kept under wraps all week, but he headed to the locker room midway through the third quarter with a cut on his leg and didn’t return. His status wasn’t immediately known.

Burns and Chris Todd combined for a paltry 28 yards passing in the first three quarters.

Burns completed 4 of 9 passes for 15 yards but ran for 69 yards and three long first downs. Todd was 9-for-18 for 70 yards with an interception and a 3-yard touchdown pass to Chris Slaughter in the fourth. The Tigers’ longest pass play heading into that final quarter was 7 yards.

The running game remained the offensive forte with 321 yards. Tate had a 49-yard run while freshman Eric Smith gained 66 yards and Brad Lester finished with 52, including a 3-yard touchdown.

The shutout remained intact after the Warhawks missed their second field goal with 50 seconds left.

The Tigers’ big plays early came from defense and special teams.

Auburn scored when Antonio Coleman jarred the ball loose from quarterback Kinsmon Lancaster on the Warhawks’ first offensive play. Coleman’s fellow defensive end Goggans scooped it up for an easy touchdown.

Then, Dunn scampered up the middle to break the Tigers’ 144-game, 12-year streak without scoring on a punt return. Every other Football Championship Subdivision team had returned one the distance since Auburn’s last in 1996.

Dunn, a projected starter who was demoted to fourth-team receiver for unspecified reasons, juked one defender, changed directions and won a foot race the rest of the way.

Auburn had not scored on special teams, offense and defense in a game since the 2003 meeting with Louisiana-Monroe.