A record for Taylor
DALLAS — Before Auburn’s game against Alabama on Nov. 18, receiver Courtney Taylor needed only four receptions to pass Karsten Bailey for career catches. But in the week heading into that game, Taylor strained his hamstring, ultimately keeping him out of his final Iron Bowl.
On Monday, in a bowl game of another sort, Taylor caught and passed Bailey, and in so doing, was named the Cotton Bowl’s offensive player of the game. He caught six passes for 70 yards in the Tigers’ 17-14 win over Nebraska
The record-tying reception came on an athletic grab over a defender’s shoulder. The record-breaking 151st catch came with 2:33 to play in the third quarter on an 8-yard reception.
“The record catch, it was a little simple out route,” Taylor said. “They gave us the right coverage, and Brandon (Cox) did a great job of holding in there. He made a great throw — all I had to do was catch it. After that, the big play to get the first down, that was all I was thinking in my head. I just wasn’t going to be denied.”
Taylor finished his Auburn career with 153 receptions. Bailey caught 150 during 1995-98.
Taylor thought about breaking the record before the game. In fact, it’s been on his mind since before the Alabama game.
“I came into the game saying, ‘Hey, this is my last game,’ ” Taylor said. “This is my last time to put on an AU helmet and uniform and play with those 150 guys. It means a lot to me right now.”
Tate sees the field
True freshman running back Ben Tate’s only previous game experience came against inferior opponents.
After Monday, he can say he has seen action in a meaningful Auburn game.
Playing in the backup spot in place of the suspended Brad Lester, Tate finished with 23 yards on four carries, giving starter Kenny Irons time to rest.
“I just go out there and want to play my game,” Tate said. “Just stay focused and do what I needed to do to help my team win.”
He impressed more than only himself.
“He’s game-ready,” Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges said. “He can play, in a big game. He’s not mopping up in non-conference. He’s got a great future, that kid.”
Karibi Dede made one of Auburn’s biggest plays, intercepting a tipped pass and returning it 52 yards to the Nebraska 9 near the end of the first quarter.
The play changed the momentum of the game as the Cornhuskers were raking in yards on the Tigers’ defense.
“That first drive they punched it in,” Auburn safety Eric Brock said. “I don’t think we got anything out of that first drive. Dede just caught the ball on the tip. ... We kind of got rolling from there.”
One of the biggest drives Monday came late in the third quarter with Auburn pinned at its own 1. With the running game stuck in neutral all day, the Tigers turned to the pass.
It’s a good thing they did. Cox found Taylor on three plays, including two for first downs. The Tigers ate nearly 51/2 minutes off the game clock, though they didn’t score any points.
“That’s typical. We didn’t score, but what we did do was we used time,” Borges said. “If we don’t get first downs there, they’re going to get the ball back and have a short field to play on. As much as you like to score, and I want to score more points, but we did what we had to do to win.”
Stewart steps up
With Lester, Auburn’s normal go-to player when points are needed, out because of suspension, Auburn turned to Carl Stewart. And he came through, scoring both of Auburn’s touchdowns.
“Carl’s a guy that makes play. He made plays for us all year long,” Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville said. “He knows how to play different positions.”
Stewart scored on a 9-yard reception and a 1-yard run.
Tuberville’s real thoughts
With Auburn finishing its bowl game Monday, Tommy Tuberville wanted to let out his real thoughts on the Bowl Championship Series selections. Suffice it to say, he would rather have been in one of the big five instead of the Big D.
“We were the only team this year to beat two BCS teams (Florida and LSU),” Tuberville said. “We should have been in the BCS. And that’s not to say anything against the Cotton Bowl. We should have last year and this year.”
Stopping Huskers’ Lucky
In the first half, Auburn’s defense made Nebraska running back Marlon Lucky look like Emmitt Smith, the former Dallas Cowboys legend. He finished the half with 61 rushing yards and 57 receiving yards.
But in the second half, the Tigers stopped him. He gained only 35 more rushing yards and 10 more receiving yards.
“We stopped him before he got going,” Auburn’s Quentin Groves said. “We were playing East-West like they like to play instead of playing North-South like we like to play.”
Auburn improved to 18-13-2 in bowl games with the win, including 1-1 in the Cotton Bowl.
The Tigers finished with at least 11 wins for the fourth time in school history. They went 11-1 in 1983, 11-0 in 1993, and 13-0 in 2004.
Tuberville improved to 71-29 at Auburn with the win. He is in his eighth season as head coach.
The 178 total yards marked the second-lowest season total for Auburn. The season-low of 171 came against Georgia in a Nov. 11 37-15 loss.
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