AUBURN — Starting punter Ryan Shoemaker left the game midway through the first quarter following his second punt.
Shoemaker, a redshirt freshman who won the job over two others, was involved in the tackle after his second punt. He remained on the field for a couple minutes before trainers helped him to the bench. Shortly after that, he was escorted into the tunnel toward the team’s locker room.
Shoemaker was on his way to another superb game.
His first two punts went for 53 and 52 yards. He averaged 42.7 yards a punt last week against K-State.
Walk-on Patrick Tatum filled in for Shoemaker. Tatum, from Sylvania pinned South Florida inside the 1-yard line on his first punt.
Freshmen get to play
Auburn redshirt freshman running back Mario Fannin finally got to play Saturday, and so did true freshman receiver Chris Slaughter.
Fannin and Slaughter were both expected to play last week, but coaches held them out. Fannin had 12 carries, 54 yards and a touchdown during the first half.
Slaughter, a member of the 2006 Auburn recruiting class, caught the first pass thrown to him for 4 yards.
Byrum, Kutch kick
Junior Zach Kutch kicked off for Auburn. Kutch replaced true freshman kicker Wes Byrum who suffered an ankle injury in the Kansas State game and was questionable to kick off.
Kutch’s four boots in the first half reached the 9-yard line, the 6, the 27 and the 26. The last two kickoffs were “bloop-style kicks.”
Byrum served as Auburn’s field-goal kicker. He connected on a 49-yarder in the first quarter that put Auburn on the scoreboard. He also made both extra points following Auburn’s touchdowns in the second quarter.
Riverboat gambler back
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, known as the riverboat gambler because of his risky play-calling, illustrated that again Saturday. He elected to attempt a fourth-and-four from the South Florida 32-yard line with 2:33 left in the second quarter. Cox completed an 8-yard pass to receiver Robert Dunn for the first down. Two minutes later Cox found Gabe McKenzie in the end zone to put the Tigers up 17-14 at the half.
It was McKenzie’s second touchdown catch of the season. The sophomore had the go-ahead score during last week’s win against Kansas State.
Tuberville also elected to attempt a fourth-and-one early in the third quarter. That one didn’t end well. Cox, gearing for a sneak, lost control of the snap, and South Florida recovered the fumble at its own 40-yard line.
Laying a lick
Sophomore cornerback Walter McFadden, who also plays special teams, smoked a South Florida player on a punt return late in the second quarter.
Running full speed down field, the 6-foot-0, 175-pound McFadden sparked the key block for Dunn’s 24-yard return.
The return was replayed on Auburn’s new high-definition video board. The camera zoomed in on the block and a loud “Whooo” echoed throughout Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Brock starts for AU
Strong safety Eric Brock started at free safety in place of Aairon Savage.
Savage, a sophomore, injured his ankle in last week’s win over Kansas State.
Savage practiced with the team late in this week but apparently was still suffering from the injury at game time. Brock nearly made an interception late in the first quarter but slid out of bounds.
Savage was seen on the sideline fully dressed with his helmet swinging by his side for most of the first half.
A spirited intro
Auburn’s bald eagle “Spirit” made its first pre-game flight Saturday, 15 minutes before kickoff. Nova, the school’s golden eagle, was scheduled to fly before last week’s game against Kansas State, but a light rain canceled the flight.
Spirit flew from the flag pole at the northeast corner of the stadium, gliding over a stunned visiting section.
It made its way over the student section and finally landed at midfield to a loud “Hey!” from the crowd.
The two eagles alternate flights every other game.
Battle of the bands
South Florida brought its entire 300-member band to the game. The Herd of Thunder Marching Band took up nearly a third of the visiting section in the northeast corner of Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Normally, a visiting school — especially from a distance such as Tampa, Fla. — will bring just a small portion of its band, called a traveling or pep band. But South Florida traveled the entire squad. Decked in their green and gold uniforms, the Bulls’ band competed with Auburn’s marching band throughout the night, especially before the game. As Auburn’s band made its way around the outskirts of Pat Dye Field playing the school’s fight songs, the South Florida band jammed out, as green-clad fans chanted “USF, USF, USF.”
Auburn’s captains included receiver Prechae Rodriguez, defensive tackle Josh Thompson and holder Matthew Motley. All three are seniors.
Grading the Tigers
Decatur Daily Sports Writer Ross Dellenger grades Auburn’s performance in Saturday’s 26-23 overtime loss to South Florida, giving the Tigers a letter grade from A+ to F in four categories.
It looked better than last week, but the Tigers still have a ways to go. The passing game is no where near acceptable.
Another good performance, except for the trouble in overtime. South Florida didn’t score on any of Auburn’s five turnovers because of defensive stops.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
Wes Byrum hit all three of his field goal attempts and the punting was superb again, but the kickoff team needs work. The Bulls had several long returns.
Auburn needs to do much better on offense if it wants to compete this season in the Southeastern Conference.
Best and worst
Best way to begin your Auburn career: Redshirt freshman running back Mario Fannin’s first two carries of his college career went for 4 and 9 yards in the first quarter. He also had a touchdown on his ninth carry of the game. True freshman Chris Slaughter caught his first college pass for a 4-yard gain late in the first quarter.
Best way to listen to this reporter: Auburn decided not to give fullback Carl Stewart any rushes in the first half. Three of his five carries went for negative yards against Kansas State. Instead, Auburn threw to the senior fullback twice for big gains. I said throughout the week that the Tigers shouldn’t give the ball to Stewart any longer.
Best way for an Auburn flag girl to get bruised and battered: During the Auburn band’s pre-game tradition of marching around the field 50 minutes before kickoff, the flag girls — leading the band — ran into a mob of South Florida players who were pouring onto the field for pregame warmups. USF players weaved in and out of the string of flag girls, bumping and nudging them. The confrontation lasted a short time, though, as an official halted the flag girls, letting USF players file onto the field without any further damage.
Worst way to start a game: Auburn started its first series of the game from its own 1. After a short pass, Cox tripped on third down when he stepped away from center, falling at the 2-yard line.
Worst way to play defense: Auburn gave up a whopping 146 yards and two touchdowns to South Florida in the first quarter. It was the most first-quarter points by an Auburn opponent since 2003 when LSU scored 21 points in Baton Rouge in the opening period. The last time the Tigers allowed at least 14 points in the opening period at home was in 2000 when Louisiana Tech scored 14 points.
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