Todd leads No. 9 Auburn past USM, 27-13

Published 5:11 pm Saturday, September 6, 2008

AUBURN – The Auburn Tigers will go into Southeastern Conference play with a clear-cut No. 1 quarterback, after all.

Chris Todd claimed the job with an efficient 248-yard effort in his first start Saturday, giving the ninth-ranked Tigers’ passing game a needed lift in a 27-13 win over Southern Miss.

The junior college transfer completed 21-of-31 passes and was on target with an array of short and mid-range throws while effectively running the new spread offense.

Then he got the official proclamation from his coach regarding the Mississippi State game: “Chris did a good job and barring anything happening he’ll be our starter next week,” Tommy Tuberville said.

The Tigers (2-0) proved they can pass after Todd and Kodi Burns had a hard time completing anything in the opener. This time it was the runners who had problems, coughing up three fumbles.

Plus, a defense that went the first 102 minutes of the season without allowing a point gave up two touchdowns in the final 18 to keep Southern Miss alive.

Todd’s performance trumped all that. He completed passes to 11 different receivers and avoided major mistakes.

“I tried to come out and lead the team, take care of the ball and be smart,” he said.

The final 4:59 was eventful, if nothing else. Auburn’s Jerraud Powers and Zac Etheridge had interceptions and the Tigers had a had a fourth-down stop and recovered a last-play fumble.

Ben Tate ran for 71 yards and a touchdown and caught three passes for 51 yards for the Tigers. Injury-plagued reserve Tristan Davis had a 13-yard scoring run in his first carry since late in the 2005 season.

Burns, last week’s starting quarterback, didn’t play in the first half and was 0-for-3 with an interception for the Tigers.

“Kodi got a little lackadaisical,” Tuberville said. “You can’t come in and do what he did. Every snap in college football is important.”

Burns did run for a 1-yard touchdown after being listed as questionable with a cut on his left leg. Todd passed for 59 yards to set up that score.

The Golden Eagles’ spread offense starting giving Auburn trouble in the second half.

Austin Davis threw a pair of scoring passes to lead Southern Miss back from a 24-0 deficit. He converted a fourth-and-long pass on both drives.

His 17-yard strike to Shawn Nelson capped a 90-yard march and made it 24-13 with 11:48 remaining — the two-point attempt had failed after the first score — and prompted chants of “USM” from the small contingent of fans hoping an upset was in the making.

“We came out in the third quarter flat and they started making some plays,” Powers said.

Todd then led a drive that milked the clock and set up Wes Byrum’s second field goal, adding to a career-best 52-yarder in the first half.

After racking up 51 points and a school-record 633 yards in an opening win over Louisiana-Lafayette, the Golden Eagles managed just 305 yards. Damion Fletcher, who gained 220 yards a week earlier, was limited to 29 yards on 13 carries but added six catches for 57 more.

“Holding him to 30 yards obviously is huge,” Tuberville said. “It forces them to throw the ball down the field. They made some plays but we also picked a few passes off, and that was the difference in the ball game.”

Davis completed 33-of-50 passes for 268 yards, most of that coming in the second half.

Nelson had 12 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns and freshman DeAndre Brown gained 88 yards on eight receptions.

“You can’t make any excuses,” Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said. “They’re a good football team. I think if you asked any of our players they were disappointed with the way we executed. We shot ourselves in the foot a lot of times.”

Todd showed some ability to improvise after completing an underhanded a pass to Tate for a 26-yard gain while falling forward.

“I’ve known he has those kinds of games in him,” Tate said. “I’ve seen that from him all along. He went out there today and made the plays. He did exactly what you’d expect from a quarterback. He was great today.”

The Tigers’ first three possessions ended in Southern Miss territory with fumbles by Lester and Tate and a punt. Robert Dunn’s punt returns of 32 and 47 yards set up a touchdown and field goal in the half.

Auburn receiver Chris Slaughter has been suspended indefinitely for violating team rules, Tuberville said.