AP photo by Todd Van Emst|
Senior holder Matthew Motley (20) holds the ball for Auburn freshman kicker Wes Byrum in the Tigers' overtime loss to South Florida on Saturday. USF's Ryan Gilliam (22) can't reach the kick.
AU freshman team's top
By Ross Dellenger
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AUBURN — As Auburn's offense fled the field, place-kicker Wes Byrum and the field goal team trotted on for a go-ahead 46-yard field goal attempt with 2:59 left in the game.
It was undoubtedly the biggest kick of Byrum's young collegiate career.
He began to count his steps off. But wait.
"We had 10 guys on the field," Byrum said. "We were trying to find the 11th on the sideline."
Byrum didn't want to count his steps and then wait in that spot for who knows how long. It would have felt like an eternity. This was already difficult enough: The kick, live on national TV, would break Auburn's 17-17 tie with South Florida.
He decided to wait until the missing player arrived before commencing his pre-kick ritual.
So, he waited, standing alongside his holder.
12 seconds on the play clock.
8 .... Finally, emerging from the sideline and rushing out onto the field was the missing man: Carl Stewart.
With just 5 seconds on the play clock, Byrum began to go through his "walk-off," as he calls it: Three steps back, two steps to the side.
4 seconds .....
3 ..... Byrum had reached his back position. Only two steps to the side and he would be ready.
2 ..... One more step to the beloved spot.
1 ..... There! As Byrum reached the position, the ball was snapped at nearly that very same moment.
0 ..... Byrum's leg whipped through the pigskin and a loud roar echoed through Jordan-Hare Stadium as it split the uprights.
Are you kidding?
This is, after all, a young man who three months ago was accepting his high school diploma. The team went fanatic, but Byrum? He just walked briskly to the sideline with a hand or two in the air, waving in a subtle celebration.
Byrum insists that he "was just lucky to get it off," but in reality, without his patience and demeanor, Auburn would never have had a chance to get to overtime —where the Tigers eventually lost.
The true freshman from Jacksonville, Fla., has scored 22 of Auburn's 46 points in the first two games, hitting 6 of 7 field goal attempts and all four extra points. His six field goals made is tied for the national lead.
"He's got great confidence in himself," said special teams coach Eddie Gran, who recruited Byrum. "That's what you love about a kicker or a golfer or whatever. He believes in what he's doing."
With Auburn's offense struggling, Byrum is the only reliable point-producing threat to opponents. If the Tigers find the opponent's 35-yard line, they've found Byrum's range.
Byrum doesn't seem to have much of a weakness. He's hit short field goals (20 and 31). He's hit long ones (46 and 49) and ones from the midway point (two from 39).
His only miss came in the opener against Kansas State when a 49-yarder flew right of the goal post.
So, how does he do it? Simple, he said.
"I just go out there, try to block everything out, think about what I have to do and let my mechanics take over," Byrum said.
Byrum said he felt for South Florida kicker Delbert Alvarado, who missed four field goals in last week's game, one from 21 yards out. But still, the Bulls won the game, a huge relief for the kicker.
"If they'd have lost, he'd have had a tough ride on the bus," said Byrum, who noted that he's never had a game like that but has experienced misses in practices. "I felt bad for the kid," he said.
During the first kickoff his career against Kansas State, the 6-foot-1, 213-pounder raced down field to assist in the tackle.
Byrum twisted his kicking ankle. Instead of sulking, he kicked off two more times and made 2 of 3 field goal tries the rest of the game.
"Wes Byrum has a lot of guts," coach Tommy Tuberville said.
Byrum didn't kick off in the second half of the K-State game and in last week's game with South Florida because of the injury, but he badly wants to return to kick off. Tuberville said Byrum kicking off will be a game-time decision this week against Mississippi State.
This is not the first time Byrum has been injured. Last season, Byrum tore some ligaments on the outside of his ankle. So, what did he do?
"Wrapped it up and kicked," he said, nonchalantly.
To make kicking matters worse, starting punter Ryan Shoemaker dislocated an elbow when making a tackle on his second punt during the South Florida game. Shoemaker will be out at least another week.
"I've never been on a football team in my tenure that's had two injuries to their main kickers in two games," Tuberville said.
When told that the kickers need to stop making tackles, Byrum smiled and said, "Yeah. We're dropping like flies."
Mississippi State (1-1, 0-1 SEC) at Auburn (1-1, 0-0)
When: Saturday, 11:30 a.m.
Where: Pat Dye Field at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn
Line: Auburn by 121/2.
TV/radio: WZDX-54 will carry the television broadcast. The radio broadcast can be heard on FM-106.1, AM-1230 and FM-98.3
Players to watch: Redshirt freshman running back Mario Fannin should play another significant role for the Tigers. Fannin racked up a team-leading 62 yards last week but fumbled twice. Auburn is yearning for some kind of running game to alleviate the pressure from embattled quarterback Brandon Cox.
Like Auburn, Mississippi State has quarterback issues. Bulldogsí starter Michael Henig has thrown seven interceptions, including six in the opener against No. 2 LSU. Henig, who is from Montgomery, will be making his last trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium as a player.
Key matchup: Mississippi State receiver Tony Burks against Auburnís injury-plagued, undersized secondary. Burks is MSUís go-to receiver, leading the team with five catches for 76 yards. His 6-foot-4, 217-pound frame could cause problems for the Tigersí secondary, which may be without two starters. Safety Aairon Savage is doubtful, and cornerback Jonathan Wilhite should play but is not 100 percent. That leaves 5-foot-9 starter Jerraud Powers and 5-foot-10 backup Zach Gilbert playing at the corners. Eric Brock and Zac Etheridge should be the safeties.
Weather: Cloudy with a high of 83 degrees and a low of 62. The chance of rain is 10 percent.
Last meeting: Auburn 34, Mississippi State 0 on Sept. 9, 2006, in Starkville, Miss.
Prediction: Auburn 20, Mississippi State 10.
Ross Dellenger, DAILY sports writer
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