This summer, Washington State head coach Mike Leach said that the bottom half of the Pac-12 was better than the bottom half of the SEC. He was proven wrong Saturday when his Cougars were defeated by the Auburn Tigers, who were 0-8 in SEC play in 2012.
In an ugly 31-24 victory, the Tigers accumulated more interceptions (3) in the first game of 2013 than in the entire 2012 season. “Star” linebacker, a critical position in defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson’s defense, Robenson Therezie was able to haul in two on his own.
It was an ugly start for Auburn, who allowed Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday to complete six of nine passes for 70 yards on the first series resulting in a Washington State score. Halliday would end the game 35-65 for 344 yards with 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions.
After a couple of sloppy drives from both teams, Therezie recorded the first interception of the Tigers’ season and put Auburn in great field position. The new quarterback for the Tigers, JUCO transfer Nick Marshall, began to finally connect after throwing a number of errant passes when he made a key third down throw to Tigers’ receiver Quan Bray.
After the score, cornerback Ryan White ran into the endzone for a surprise two point conversion.
Marshall, who has been compared to former Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, had a rough start to his Auburn career, finishing the night 10-19 for 99 yards and only 27 yards rushing. Still, he did not have a turnover and displayed the strong arm and athletic ability that have many believing he could be an impact player.
The game was back and forth for the rest of the first half with an interception from Joshua Holsey, a 75 yard run from running back Corey Grant, and the efficiency of Halliday were the highlights of the first half that finished 25-21.
No touchdowns were thrown in the second half as the improved play of Nick Marshall and the Auburn defense allowed the Tigers to finish the game strong.
For the Tigers, Therezie and Corey Grant, a transfer from Alabama, were the highlights. Grant finished the game with 146 yards and a touchdown on 9 carries. The Auburn rushing attack was bolstered by an additional 73 yards from junior Tre Mason and 52 yards from JUCO transfer Cameron Artis Payne along with the 27 yards from Marshall.
Also of note for the Tigers was the performance of freshman defensive tackle Montravius Adams, who consistently played in the backfield of the Cougars. Another freshman, defensive end Carl Lawson, provided a decent pass rush in limited action.
The Tigers were missing leading defensive returner Dee Ford, senior defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker, and junior linebacker Justin Garrett from the starting lineup. They also kicked last year’s leading tackler, Demetruce McNeal, off the team weeks before the season.
Deone Bucannon was a defensive standout for the Cougars, providing big hits and big plays. Halliday, who opened the game with seven completions to seven different receivers, along with his receiving corps, led by Gabe Marks’ 81 yards, were also standouts on offense.
There were positive takeaways for both teams who were bottom dwellers in their respective conferences in 2012. For Auburn, they were able to win, play better defensively, and, while their offense stagnated at times, they showed potential. Gus Malzahn has promised a “new day” at Auburn and there were plenty of reasons for optimism for the Tigers.
The Cougars looked significantly improved from 2012, Halliday had come a long way, and their ground game was effective.
Auburn will host Arkansas State next week while Washington State travels south to play USC.