Auburn Burns Skyhawks in second half
AUBURN — Tennessee Martin was able to catch up with Auburn, but couldn’t chase down Kodi Burns.
Burns ran for 158 yards, passed for 130 and scored on two long second-half runs after the Tigers found themselves stuck in a tie game to run away with a 37-20 win over the Skyhawks on Saturday.
Auburn (5-5) had lost four straight games and was struggling yet again midway through the third quarter with the Skyhawks (7-3) before Burns started breaking loose.
“I was just sick of seeing this,” he said. “It’s the same story every week. I was just sick of seeing it and didn’t want to see it again. I just wanted to come out and get a win so I did everything in my power to move the ball down the field and score.”
Burns, who had passed for a career-high 319 yards a week earlier, became the first Auburn quarterback to run for more than 100 yards since Phil Gargis against Florida State in 1976.
He scampered 31 yards for a touchdown on a third-and-6 play to give Auburn a 27-20 lead in the third quarter. It was Auburn’s longest offensive score of the season — for a few minutes, at least.
Burns set up Wes Byrum’s third field goal early in the final quarter with another 31-yard run to give the Tigers a two-score cushion. Then he took a shotgun snap on third-and-7 and raced 58 yards for a score that ended any threat of an embarrassing upset.
As a result, the Tigers can go into the two final games against top rivals Georgia and Alabama on a positive note.
Burns needed just 13 carries for the biggest rushing day of any Auburn player since Kenny Irons gained 183 yards against Washington State in the 2006 opener.
UT Martin had threatened to score three more times in the second half, but Cade Thompson was intercepted twice near the goal line and Auburn stopped Brandyn Young on third and fourth down from the Tigers’ 10-yard line.
Burns was 12-of-20 passing but the Tigers did most of their damage on the ground. Auburn’s 290 yards rushing was the team’s most since gaining 321 in the opener against Louisiana-Monroe.
The Tigers stuck to the basics and racked up 452 yards against the outmanned Skyhawks.
“Obviously Kodi was the difference with his legs running and making plays,” Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. “We didn’t do a lot on offense and defense. We were pretty much vanilla. We were just trying to make plays.”
UT Martin made its plays in a different fashion, picking at an injury-depleted Auburn defense with mostly short passes and only a smattering of runs.
Thompson completed 27 of 46 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns as UT Martin ran only 15 times for 38 yards — half that on one fourth quarter run by Young — even though Auburn was missing three starting defensive linemen. Mike Hicks caught 12 passes for 132 yards and two TDs.
“Obviously, it was going to be a tough road for us to run the football on them,” Tennessee Martin coach Jason Simpson said. “Our game plan was to come in and use our receivers and I thought for the most part we were very accurate.”
But, he added, “we’ll never be happy with just keeping the game close. It’s the not the kind of program that we want to be.” The crowd of 85,365 was easily the largest the Skyhawks had played against.
They had stunned the Auburn crowd by scoring two straight touchdowns to tie the game at 20-all with 8:59 left in the third quarter, prompting hopeful cries of “UTM” from the small section of visitors and a different reaction from the Tigers.
“I was kind of shocked because a team like Tennessee Martin should never, never be that close,” tailback Ben Tate said. “That just shows that we’ve got to come out a lot better than we did. We have to start faster.”
Hicks caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Thompson with 36 seconds left before halftime and added a 9-yarder after bobbling the ball and catching it when it came down. During that sequence, the Skyhawks passed on 15 consecutive plays.
“I was just thinking we’ve got to get out and stop them, because we aren’t playing Auburn defense right now,” defensive end Antoine Carter said. “That’s not us. We don’t let a team just run down and keep scoring like that.”
The game started with two wild special teams touchdowns.
Tristan Davis returned the opening kick 95 yards. Then Auburn’s Robert Dunn fumbled a punt return and Chip Martin recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.