Byrum comes off bench
AUBURN — Auburn place-kicker Wes Byrum, who has been suffering from a bruised thigh, did no kicking until midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s win over Ole Miss.
That’s when he hit a 36-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 10-3 lead.
Zach Kutch missed his first career field goal early in the third quarter when his 42-yard knuckle ball hooked wildly. Head coach Tommy Tuberville chose to go with the injured Byrum on the next field goal try, and it paid off.
“After the bad miss of the field goal, we decided a field goal might make the difference in that game the way it was playing,” said Tuberville, who noted that Byrum had not practiced all week.
A sophomore from Milton, Fla., Kutch kicked off the entire game and made one extra point. Kutch did not appear in a game last season and kicked off 14 times in 2005.
Byrum also came into the game early in the fourth quarter to attempt what looked like a 51-yard field goal, but the true freshman instead punted the ball. It was downed at the 1-yard line.
“It was into the wind,” Tuberville said. “Wesley couldn’t get a full swing on (a field goal kick).”
Groves, Savage sit at first
Although Auburn defensive end Quentin Groves and safety Aairon Savage are both nearly at full health, they did not start.
Sophomore Antonio Coleman replaced Groves in the starting lineup for the fourth straight game. Groves dislocated three toes in Auburn’s win at Florida on Sept. 29. He played for the first time since the injury last week and said earlier this week that he was 90 percent healthy.
Groves did play, coming in off the bench and rotating with Coleman. The senior entered the game needing one more sack to be the school’s career sack leader, but he never got it.
Coleman again had a stellar game in his replacement duty, recording two sacks and a tackle for lost yardage.
“He’s picked up where Quentin left off,” Tuberville said. “Those two (Quentin and Coleman) are going to be a good one-two punch for the rest of the season.”
Eric Brock also got his fourth straight start in place of the injured Savage, who twisted his knee against Florida. Savage practiced with the team this week but saw no playing time Saturday.
Hawthorne in for Dunn
Receiver Tim Hawthorne got his second straight start, replacing the suspended Robert Dunn. Dunn dressed out for the game and was seen warming up with the team during pregame drills, but he never played.
Dunn’s suspension began last game when he did not make the trip to Baton Rouge, La., for the game with LSU. He was suspended for violating practice policy last week. Dunn has 10 catches for 116 yards in seven games this season.
Hawthorne did not have a catch against LSU and repeated that performance against Ole Miss, finishing with zero receptions.
Fannin at receiver
With the return of starting running back Brad Lester, Auburn’s backfield has become crowded. The odd man out: freshman Mario Fannin.
But Fannin was used at receiver Saturday more than at tailback, catching two passes for 29 yards. Aligned at receiver, Fannin was the ball-carrier on two end around plays, amassing 37 yards.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges said earlier in the week that he could not let Fannin’s quick feet and good hands be wasted on the bench.
Slaughter returns punts
True freshman receiver Chris Slaughter replaced the suspended Dunn as Auburn’s punt returner.
Slaughter also returned punts last game against LSU, but he never got the opportunity to field one. He returned one punt Saturday for 9 yards. He also fumbled one and recovered it.
Slaughter also got his third reception of his career and his first since the New Mexico State game when Cox found him early in the second quarter for a 6-yard gain.
Lester comes up shy
Lester, who’s never had a 100-yard rushing performance, finished with 96 yards, but coaches did try to give the junior that extra yard for the century mark.
With just minutes left in the game, Lester had 99 yards. He was given a handoff and lost 3 yards. He never entered the game again.
Friends, roommates unite
While their teams warmed up about 35 minutes before kickoff, Tuberville and Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron met and talked for about three minutes.
Tuberville and Orgeron shared an apartment during their days as assistant coaches at the University of Miami in the late 1980s. Tuberville actually helped the now-Ole Miss coach begin his career at Miami.
Both Tuberville and Orgeron began as part-time assistant coaches under Miami coach Jimmy Johnson.
In 1989, after Johnson left Miami to coach the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, new coach Dennis Erickson promoted Orgeron and Tuberville to full-time positions: Orgeron as the defensive line coach and Tuberville as linebackers coach.
With six victories, Auburn is eligible for the postseason, marking the eighth straight season the Tigers will be going bowling.
Depending on how Auburn finishes the season, the Tigers may receive invitations from a number of bowls.
Here’s how the SEC bowl selection works:
The winner of the SEC Championship Game usually will be invited to the Sugar Bowl automatically, but because the Sugar is home to the national championship game this season, the Orange, Rose or Fiesta Bowl will take the champion.
The Capital One Bowl will make its pick following the BCS selections. The bowl must select the team with the next best overall record or a team that is within one win of that team.
The Outback and Cotton Bowls have the third and fourth selections. The Cotton has the first preference of teams from the West Division, and the Outback has the first preference of teams from the East Division. The Cotton or Outback Bowl can select teams outside its divisional preference, but must not select them before the opposite bowl selects from its divisional preference.
The Chik-fil-A Bowl has the next selection.
In selections six through seven, the Liberty and Music City Bowls will make their selections, not in any specific order. The bowls will rank available qualified teams in order of preference. If there are no similarities in the order of selection, the bowls will be granted their selections. If the bowls rank the same teams in preference, the team involved in the process would get its preference of which bowl trip to take.
The Independence Bowl receives the final and eighth selection.
Grading the Tigers
Decatur Daily Sports Writer Ross Dellenger grades Auburn’s performance in Saturday’s 17-3 win over OleMiss, giving the Tigers a letter grade from A+ to F in four categories.
Scoring 17 points on the worst defense in the SEC is never good. Auburn did rack up more than 200 rushing yards, but the passing game was awful until the final drive. Without tailback Brad Lester (96 yards), the Tigers wouldn’t have hit double digits on the scoreboard.
Although the Tigers allowed a couple of long drives, they kept the Rebels offense in check, for the most part. Ole Miss had just 30 yards midway through the second quarter.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-
The kickoff coverage was again horrendous. Ole Miss gained 30 and 33 yards on Auburn’s two returnable kickoffs. Sophomore place-kicker Zach Kutch missed a field goal. Punt returner Chris Slaughter fumbled a punt. It was probably the worst special teams outing of the season.
THE BIG PICTURE: B-
An ugly win yet again. Auburn’s offense remains inconsistent. But the defense once again won the game. The Tigers can’t keep relying on defense to win games, especially with Georgia and Alabama remaining on the schedule.
Best and worst
Best way to show the Rebels you have no respect for their run defense: Auburn opened the game with nine straight runs: six by Brad Lester, two by Ben Tate and one by fullback Carl Stewart. The Tigers marched the ball inside the Ole Miss 40-yard line on those runs, but on the first pass of the game, receiver Rod Smith fumbled to the Rebels.
Best way to keep riding the bench : Guard Leon Hart, who plays sparingly, gave up a sack that led to quarterback Brandon Cox being injured. Hart walked off the field to a livid line coach, Hugh Nall, who chastised him.
Worst start to your punt return career: Replacing suspended punt returner Robert Dunn, true freshman Chris Slaughter fielded his first two punts of his young Auburn career Saturday. The first one he caught on the bounce and then ran into his own man. He dropped the second one, luckily falling on it as Ole Miss’ return crowded around him.
Worst confidence booster: At the beginning of the second quarter, true freshman quarterback Kodi Burns quickly entered the game, replacing Brandon Cox. But Auburn was forced to use a timeout because there was confusion on the line. Emerging from the break, Burns was back on the sideline, and Cox was under center.
Worst way to spike the ball: During its drive late in the second quarter, Ole Miss aligned to spike the ball in an attempt to stop the clock. The Rebels went to the line of scrimmage and were called for false start, pushing them back 5 yards.
Worst mathematics: Auburn announced the game’s attendance as a capacity crowd, but there were hundreds of vacant seats in the stadium.
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