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Brandon Cox completed 13 of 19 passes for 135 yards in Saturday’s 55-20 win over New Mexico State.
AP photo by Dave Martin
Brandon Cox completed 13 of 19 passes for 135 yards in Saturday’s 55-20 win over New Mexico State.

Back in
the saddle again

Cox returns to No. 1 in Auburn’s QB race

By Ross Dellenger · 340-2460

AUBURN — Fewer than 24 hours after he was booed off the field and yanked from the lineup during Auburn’s loss to Mississippi State, Brandon Cox was told that he wouldn’t start the next game ... against New Mexico State in six days.

Minutes later, he graced reporters with a gloomy demeanor and a depressing appearance. A cloud of confusion and anguish hung over his head.

What a difference a week makes.

Cox exuberantly trotted into the interview room Sunday, sat with reporters and had a cheery conversation, smiling and laughing along the way.

Just minutes earlier the senior had been told that he won his job back. Cox will start when Auburn (2-2, 0-1 SEC) plays at third-ranked Florida (4-0, 2-0) on Saturday.

“It’s good to be back,” said a smiling Cox, who just seven days earlier was on the brink of tears.

“I knew if I did get a chance, I’d take advantage. I just told myself I’ve got the opportunity to go out there. I’m just going to take what they give me and try to get back to how I’ve played in the past.”

He did just that, resembling the Brandon Cox of the last two years — no interceptions, one touchdown pass, and completing almost 70 percent of his passes.

Cox’s zero interceptions Saturday marks the first time the Birmingham native didn’t throw one in a game since January’s Cotton Bowl. He accounted for seven of Auburn’s 12 turnovers during the first three games of this season as the Tigers slid to a 1-2 start.

“He looked like the old Brandon that we all love and know,” Tuberville said Sunday.

The coach added, “Brandon will be our starter. Hopefully (he) got a little of the cobwebs out.”

Cox was booed off the field following his second interception on his second pass attempt of the game against Mississippi State last week. True freshman quarterback Kodi Burns replaced him, garnering cheers from the home crowd. Burns’ success in the shotgun-option package won him the start Saturday.

But the option scheme failed against New Mexico State and the offense returned to its funk — until Cox entered the game in the second quarter.

“I think taking him out last week helped him recognize a little bit of stuff on the sideline,” Tuberville said, “of how he can do better.”

Tuberville said Sunday that while Cox will get the start, Burns also will play this weekend. Even if Cox performs well, Burns likely will get some snaps in Florida’s raucous Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, nicknamed “The Swamp.”

“We’ll have certain plays that Brandon can’t run if they have defenses we feel like we can take advantage of,” Tuberville said. “It doesn’t matter if he’s having a great game, we’ll still put (Kodi) in there.”

Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges refused to answer a question concerning the quarterbacks, saying, “Until we put a gameplan together, I have no answer to that yet.”

It was Burns on Sunday who carried a bleak air about him, but he insisted that the feeling while watching Cox direct the offense up and down the field was not bittersweet.

“It’s just a sweet feeling,” he said. “I’ve said many times that it is his team.”

Friday, five days after his embarrassing performance against Mississippi State, Cox said “a stack” of letters awaited him when he arrived at the Auburn athletic complex. Even his mom received letters, e-mails and phone calls.

“I’d say 95 percent of them were supportive,” Cox said.

The three-year starter is looking forward to the trip to Gainesville, Fla. After all, he was booed in three separate instances last week on his home field. It will be a relief to get booed where it’s expected.

“It’s fun to go (to away venues) and get booed,” Cox said. “It’ll be good to get booed by the opposing team.”

Auburn Monday playback

Three things Auburn should remember after a 55-20 win over New Mexico State.

  • Cox’s confidence returns: After tossing six interceptions in the first three games, senior quarterback Brandon Cox broke out of the funk Saturday night. He completed 68 percent of his passes, scored twice and had zero interceptions.

  • Reality check for Burns: The savior last week, freshman quarterback Kodi Burns had just 20 yards rushing on seven carries against the Western Athletic Conference defense of New Mexico State. He completed 1 of 5 passes. Coaches realized early that Burns’ play last week might have been a one-time deal, as the Aggies loaded the box prohibiting him from running. SEC defenses will do the same.

  • Alabama lost: About an hour after the Tigers stomped New Mexico State, a wave of cheers swept across the Auburn campus when Georgia scored a touchdown in overtime to beat Alabama on Saturday night. The heat was building on head coach Tommy Tuberville’s seat this week, with a 1-2 record. The “school across the state” — as Tuberville calls Alabama — added to that fire with an unblemished mark. After Saturday, things cooled following an Auburn win and the Tide’s first loss.

    Ross Dellenger

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