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SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2007
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Auburn’s Mario Fannin, left, celebrates with Cole Bennett (87) and Jason Bosley after Fannin’s 5-yard touchdown run against New Mexico State on Saturday. Auburn won 55-20.
AP photo by Dave Marin
Auburn’s Mario Fannin, left, celebrates with Cole Bennett (87) and Jason Bosley after Fannin’s 5-yard touchdown run against New Mexico State on Saturday. Auburn won 55-20.

At the controls, Cox directs scoring machine

By Ross Dellenger
sports@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

AUBURN — The same Auburn student section that had vigorously booed Brandon Cox off the field last week, chanted his name Saturday night.

Cox responded, and so did everyone else for Auburn.

Five different players scored, the defense created six turnovers and the Tigers rolled over New Mexico State 55-20, ending a two-game losing skid and sending some of the 83,012 in attendance toward Toomer’s Corner for the ceremonial rolling of the tree.

“I want to brag on Brandon Cox,” Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. “He showed poise and showed class. If it hadn’t been for him, we would have been in a little trouble tonight.”

Auburn defender Sen’Derrick Marks celebrates an interception with Quentin Groves, left, and Jack Ricks against New Mexico State in Auburn on Saturday. Auburn won 55-20.
AP photo by Todd J. Van Emst
Auburn defender Sen’Derrick Marks celebrates an interception with Quentin Groves, left, and Jack Ricks against New Mexico State in Auburn on Saturday. Auburn won 55-20.
Auburn’s once lackluster offense exploded for 422 yards and turned four Aggie turnovers into 28 second-half points. After allowing almost 300 yards in the first half, the Tigers defense held pass-happy New Mexico State to a mere 117 yards in the final two quarters.

But it was Auburn’s offense that garnered some much-needed positive attention. The Tigers scored more points Saturday than they had in the last two weeks combined, and Cox finally had a good outing, completing 13 of his 19 attempts for 135 yards and two scores.

But it looked like another scary start for the senior.

True freshman quarterback Kodi Burns started for the Tigers. Cox entered the game in the second quarter and his first play from scrimmage brought back bad memories.

He failed to handle an awkward snap, and the Aggies recovered the fumble.

“I didn’t know what to do after that,” Cox said.

A play later, New Mexico State quarterback Chase Holbrook hit receiver Chris Williams for a 25-yard touchdown to give the Aggies their first lead of the game at 20-14.

It would be the last time they score, as Auburn’s defense pitched a second-half shutout, and the offense finally found the playmakers that have been missing from the first three weeks.

Receiver Robert Dunn hauled in three passes for 87 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Mario Fannin and sophomore Ben Tate combined for 214 yards and four touchdowns as they ran behind a shuffled offensive line. True freshmen Ryan Pugh and Chaz Ramsey made their first starts on a battered and bruised line.

“It looked like we created some more holes,” Tuberville said. “The good thing is Brandon had a lot of time.”

And he capitalized on it. When Cox entered the game Saturday night, a loud cheer filled Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Cox was flooded with a sympathetic outpouring this week.

“True Auburn fans,” he said, sent him letters and teammates encouraged him.

The Birmingham native described the game with one word.

“Relief,” he said. “It’s been a very stressful week for me.”

Auburn put the game away in the third quarter with a combined effort from its defense and Cox.

Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite intercepted Holbrook for a second time, and a few plays later Cox found Smith for an 18-yard touchdown completion to give the Tigers their biggest lead of the game at 28-20 with 10:21 remaining in the third quarter.

On the ensuing drive, defensive end Sen’Derrick Marks intercepted a Holbrook pass just 3 yards shy of the goal line. As Cox and the offense trotted out onto the field, the student section began chanting, “Brandon, Brandon, Brandon.”

His touchdown sneak from the 1-yard line followed to make the score 35-20. As he dove into the end zone, the student section erupted, easily the loudest cheer of the night.

“They’re with you when you are doing good and booing when you’re doing bad,” Cox said after the game.

Asked if Cox would start next week against Florida, Tuberville said, “I would imagine he will probably be the guy.”

Auburn’s defense got started early and often.

With 7:33 left in the first quarter, Decatur High grad Jerraud Powers forced a fumble with a hit on Aggie receiver A. J. Harris. Defensive end Pat Sims picked up the loose ball and rumbled 21 yards for a touchdown to give Auburn a 7-0 lead.

New Mexico State responded quickly with an 80-yard, 10-play drive. The Aggies got into position with a 44-yard pass completions, and Holbrook snuck into the end zone from a yard out a few plays later tying the score at 7-7.

Burns hooked up with Smith on the first play of the ensuing drive for a 58-yard touchdown that put Auburn up 14-7 with 3:34 left in the first quarter. Burns’ pass was slightly underthrown, but Smith came back to haul it in at the 10-yard line. He broke free of the defender and dove into the end zone for the score.

It was the only highlight of the night for Burns, who emerged as the team’s savior last week. The shotgun-option package that worked so well a week ago failed early.

“They were not going to let Kodi run the ball,” Tuberville said. “We knew were going to have to throw the ball.”

After booing him last week, Auburn fans cheered senior quarterback Brandon Cox this week.
AP photo by Dave Martin
After booing him last week, Auburn fans cheered senior quarterback Brandon Cox this week.
After playing all of the first quarter, Burns was benched for the second and third quarters. He came back in the fourth when the game was all but over.

The Aggies responded to Burns’ long bomb with a 14-play, 85 yard drive. Holbrook found receiver Brandon Allen from 5 yards out to tie the score at 14-14.

The only turnover for Auburn came on the next series when that odd snap was recovered by New Mexico State. A play later Holbrook hit Williams in stride at the goal line to give the Aggies the lead.

But Tate moved Auburn down field with runs of 8, 9 and 19 yards, and Fannin capped the 62-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run to give Auburn a 21-20 halftime lead.

Cox’s two quick scores followed to put the Tigers up 35-20, but the defense wasn’t done yet.

Wilhite plucked another Holbrook pass at the Aggie 41-yard line with 3:04 left in the third. A nine-play drive was capped with Tate’s 2-yard touchdown run to put Auburn up 42-20.

Wilhite’s two interceptions was the most by a single Auburn player since Junior Rosegreen had four picks at Tennessee in 2004. “We caused turnovers and we only turned it over once,” Tuberville said. “Overall it was a good night.”

After the Aggies fumbled the ensuing kickoff, Fannin scored his second touchdown of the game from 5 yards out. Byrum missed his first extra point of the season, but Auburn led 48-20 with about 13 minutes left in the game.

Fannin raced down the sideline for a 67-yard score to end the scoring with 22 seconds left in the game.

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