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Auburn’s Zac Etheridge comes out of a pile with a first-half fumble recovery. It led to the Tigers’ go-ahead TD in the second quarter.
Daily photos by Gary Cosby Jr.
Auburn’s Zac Etheridge comes out of a pile with a first-half fumble recovery. It led to the Tigers’ go-ahead TD in the second quarter.

Somber Cox absorbs AU loss
Sitting on bench shakes senior QB

By Ross Dellenger · 340-2460

AUBURN — Brandon Cox’s blue Auburn hat rested on a mat of wet hair as the black band to his sunglasses draped across his chest. His eyes — as always — were a little bloodshot, but it was his melancholy tone that set a despairing mood Sunday afternoon.

The senior quarterback’s voice and demeanor displayed an obvious sadness just 24 hours after his once-successful Auburn career took an unexpected turn.

As he sat Sunday in Auburn’s athletic building with a gaggle of reporters surrounding him, Cox was a shade of a different color. His smiling persona had evaporated, and his cheery glare was gone.

“It’s tough,” a somber Cox said. “It’s just another bump in the road we have to get through.”

Though it affected the entire locker room, Auburn’s 19-14 loss to Mississippi State on Saturday rocked its once-beloved quarterback, who before this season had won 19 games as a starter and lost just five.

Cox’s two interceptions Saturday led to the current quarterback controversy that coach Tommy Tuberville and offensive coordinator Al Borges now have on their hands.

Auburn coaches won’t say if true freshman Kodi Burns will start the Tigers’ next game.
Auburn coaches won’t say if true freshman Kodi Burns will start the Tigers’ next game.
A 23-year-old two-year senior starter vs. an 18-year-old true freshman in Kodi Burns?

“Brandon’s still going to play,” Tuberville said. “He might be our starter. We haven’t made up our mind on that.”

The coach said he would not divulge a starter, saying “we’ll work Kodi in with Brandon this week.”

Borges said he’s never been a “fan” of the two-quarterback system. He’s never used it before.

“I don’t like it,” Borges said. “If I think that’s what will help us move the ball and win games, I’ll do anything.”

It never was supposed to come down to this. Cox was “great” in preseason practice and in the spring, Borges said.

He was supposed to be the cool, consistent, error-free Brandon Cox, making a statement to the NFL that he can play football beyond college. But Auburn’s offense this year is not what it used to be.

A young offensive line and a lack of depth at running back have caused a once-fierce Auburn ground attack to die. The Tigers are ranked ninth in the Southeastern Conference in rushing yards per game at 134.

More emphasis has been put on Cox’s arm — a rarity in the past. Cox had thrown 30 or more passes just three times in his 24 starts before this season began. He threw 30 against Kansas State and 35 against South Florida.

But no one — Cox, Tuberville, Borges — has an answer for the miscues. No one can put a finger on what has tripped up the winningest quarterback in SEC.

“Just forcing the ball,” Cox said, not elaborating. “I had a good fall and spring.”

Boos from the Auburn faithful greeted Cox three separate times Saturday: when his name was announced with the starting lineup before the game; when he tossed that second interception in the first quarter; and when he came back onto the field for one play after Burns had replaced him in the second quarter.

Tuberville said he was “bothered” by the booing. He sugarcoated the affair, saying that he hoped “they were booing me.”

“I don’t think they’d be booing Brandon,” he said. “If you’re going to boo, boo the coaches because we get paid to do this.”

Said Cox: “They were booing me. They weren’t booing the coaches. If you don’t get the job done, (the fans) are not going to like you.”

After Cox’s second interception, Burns came into the game to cheers and chants of his name. Cox, on the other hand, wandered on the sideline, his helmet swinging by his side, as he watched a true freshman run an entirely different offense than he had manned during the last 21/2 seasons.

Borges replaced an I-formation offense with an option-shotgun package to utilize Burns’ speed. While Burns rushed for 87 yards Saturday, Cox meandered on the sideline, occasionally getting a pat on the back from teammates.

“Everybody came up to me and said they still believed in me,” Cox said, “and they still loved me.”

Burns even chastised fans for booing, and defensive end Quentin Groves, one of Cox’s closest friends, did the same Sunday.

“I love him to death,” Groves said.

“To do what they did to Cox Saturday, I haven’t seen nothing like that in my life.”

Auburn Monday playback

Three things Auburn should remember after a 19-14 loss to Mississippi State.

Kodi Burns, Kodi Burns, Kodi Burns: The emergence of the true freshman quarterback will help a stagnant Auburn offense. His speedy skills bring the option into play, a nuisance for defenses.

Defense is still strong: The Tigers’ defense gave up only 12 points. It nearly salvaged a sluggish offense again.

Better get new goals: Auburn will need to redefine its expectations for the 2007 season. A loss to Mississippi State at home has the team 1-2 with the most difficult part of the schedule looming — trips to Florida, LSU, Arkansas and Georgia, and a home game against Alabama.

Ross Dellenger

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