AUBURN — Linebacker Tray Blackmon provided some much-needed excitement just before halftime with his first career interception.
The Auburn sophomore intercepted Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman’s Hail Mary pass on the last play of the half. Blackmon picked off Freeman at the 5-yard line and then raced behind Auburn defenders-turned-blockers across midfield.
Blackmon had to beat only one man after crossing into K-State territory, and it was Freeman himself.
The Wildcats quarterback dove at Blackmon’s legs. Blackmon stumbled but could not keep his balance, falling 45 yards away from the end zone.
It was Freeman’s first interception of the night, and it came just two plays after quarterback Brandon Cox was intercepted.
Freeman had quite a first half — minus the interception — passing for 108 yards on 12 completions. Five of those catches went to senior receiver Jordy Nelson.
Kansas State had to lean on Freeman. Its running game produced only 17 yards on eight carries over the first two quarters. The Wildcats converted their first three third-down attempts and failed on their next six tries as the Tiger defense hit their stride.
The big screen
Auburn debuted its $2.9 million high-definition scoreboard Saturday night.
The video display is the first true high definition video display in the Southeastern Conference and measures approximately 30 feet high by 74 feet wide.
It will take advantage of Daktronics, latest HD-12 light emitting diode technology.
“It’s a real nice scoreboard, and I think it’s really going to add something to Jordan-Hare Stadium,” coach Tommy Tuberville said recently. “The fans are going to enjoy it. It’s going to be very beneficial to all of us as we use that thing several different ways.”
Auburn is the first Southeastern Conference school to install large screen HD video at one of its facilities, and is only the second NCAA school.
The video board broadcast a five-minute crystal-clear video featuring highlights from last season before kickoff.
Auburn’s Golden Eagle “Nova” was scheduled to fly during pregame, but weather conditions canceled the flight.
A light, misty rain began to fall on Pat Dye Field about 20 minutes before kickoff. It continued off and on throughout the first quarter.
By halftime the rain had ceased and a cool wind whipped about the stadium.
Auburn sophomore defensive end Antonio Coleman was helped off the field by the team’s trainers after lying on the grass for several minutes following a play late in the second quarter Saturday.
Trainers were inspecting his left knee, but Coleman began walking around just minutes later and returned to begin the second half.
Eight players made their first career start for Auburn, including Decatur High grad Jerraud Powers.
The list included defensive end Pat Sims, running back Ben Tate, receiver Prechae Rodriguez, linebacker Craig Stevens, defensive backs Zac Etheridge and Powers, and offensive linemen Tyronne Green, Mike Berry and Lee Ziemba.
Cox in top five
Brandon Cox’s 6-yard strike to Prechae Rodriguez early in the second quarter put the senior quarterback in fifth place in school history for career passing yards. Cox surpassed Patrick Nix’s mark of 4,957 yards.
The Birmingham native has about 1,000 yards to go before passing fourth-place Dameyune Craig.
Captain on board
Cox, defensive end Quentin Groves and deep snapper Matthew Motley served as Auburn’s captains for the opener.
Cox and Groves have a combined 41 starts in their tenures at the school.
Motley has served as the holder on field goals and extra points for the Tigers for the last two seasons.
Kicking it off
True freshman Wes Byrum kicked off for Auburn.
Byrum was named the team’s starting field-goal kicker and kickoff specialist Aug. 19, but Austin High grad Morgan Hull has been competing with Byrum for the kickoff spot since walking onto the team last week.
Hull told The Daily last week that he and Byrum were “neck and neck” in the length of their kickoffs. Tuberville also said Hull was reaching Byrum’s length, routinely booting kicks into the end zone during practice, but it was Byrum who drew the start.
Byrum booted the first kickoff of his collegiate career to the 1-yard line.
Hull got his chance in the second half when Auburn turned to him to kick off.
Grading the Tigers
Decatur Daily Sports Writer Ross Dellenger grades Auburn’s performance in Saturday’s 23-13 win over Kansas State, giving the Tigers a letter grade from A+ to F in four categories.
Until the magical ending, the Auburn offense wasted plenty of scoring opportunities, settling for three field goals on three different trips inside the 20-yard line. Brandon Cox threw two interceptions, and the team rushed for just 62 yards.
The only big gain for Kansas State came on that trick play in the third quarter. The group sacked K-State quarterback Josh Freeman twice and held the Wildcats to just 27 rushing yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
The coaches sure did a good job of choosing a starting place-kicker. True freshman Wes Byrum hit three of four field goal attempts, missing only from 47 yards out.
For 55 minutes, the offense struggled. Auburn won’t win many conference games if it can’t sustain more drives and get the ball across the goal line more than once.
Best and worst
Best way to get yourself killed: After getting sacked late in the first quarter, quarterback Brandon Cox emerged from the pile and got into the faces of the Kansas State defenders, trash-talking as he left the field.
Best way to take advantage of home field: Facing a fourth-and-one from the K-State 9, Auburn was prepared to go for it before being called for delay of game, which followed a timeout. After a discussion between coach Tommy Tuberville and the head referee, the delay of game penalty was voided because the play clock was set at 15 seconds instead of 25.
Best way to keep your job: Redshirt freshman punter Ryan Shoemaker battled two others during preseason practice for the starting job. Shoemaker’s first three punts for his collegiate career went for 40, 53 and 43 yards. The last was from deep in the end zone.
Worst way to cover the opponent’s top receiver: Auburn knew coming into Saturday that KSU senior receiver Jordy Nelson was the Wildcats’ top wideout. Nelson had four catches for 58 yards before the first quarter ended. Nelson helped the Wildcats take a 3-0 lead into the second quarter.
Worst way to keep your job: Robert Dunn, Auburn’s punt returner, touched a punt inside the 5-yard line instead of letting it roll into the end zone for a touchback. He bobbled the ball, finally falling on it at the 2. Cox was nearly sacked for a safety a play later.
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