Morgan Hull kicks off
Austin High grad Morgan Hull felt a little better about himself following Auburn’s 35-3 win over Tennessee Tech on Saturday, and it had nothing to do with the victory.
In the Tigers’ season opener, Hull’s first collegiate kickoff sailed out of bounds. He partially vindicated himself Saturday, drawing the start as Auburn’s kickoff specialist.
“It felt good,” Hull said. “I put a lot of work into it since that point. Just been working up to getting back to where I need to be, recovering from that debut.”
Hull kicked four times. One of those boots was fielded at the 3-yard line, but the others didn’t make it to the 15.
“The one that went deep was how they are all supposed to go,” he said.
Hull was one of several kickers being evaluated by coaches during the week of practice for Auburn’s temporary kickoff job. Wes Byrum remained Auburn’s place-kicker, but a sore knee kept him from kicking off.
Hull was told Wednesday he would be the kickoff specialist, but it’s short lived. Head coach Tommy Tuberville expects Byrum to kick off next week at Georgia.
“Just this week,” Hull said, sadly.
A true freshman, Hull walked onto the team in late August and impressed coaches with his leg strength. Until the season opener, he was competing with Byrum to be the kickoff specialist, but Byrum got the starting nod.
Hull got a chance to prove his kickoff skills in the opener when Byrum twisted his ankle on the opening kickoff. Hull’s low, line drive sailed out of bounds. He kicked for the first time Saturday since that kickoff.
Hull, who is on academic scholarship at Auburn, made 14 of 16 field goals, including a long of 53 yards in high school. He had athletic scholarship offers from a host of schools, including Arkansas and Ole Miss, but he badly wanted to attend Auburn.
Dunn plays, scores
Receiver Robert Dunn definitely wasn’t expecting this. The junior receiver smiled and laughed after he was asked if he thought he would return from a two-game suspension and catch his first two touchdown passes of his career.
“I hope it happens for the rest of the year,” Dunn said, still chuckling.
Dunn caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brandon Cox and a 20-yarder from backup Blake Field. Dunn also got his old job back as Auburn’s punt returner. He had two returns for 21 yards.
But still, the day wasn’t perfect.
“He dropped a pass or two out there on third down that he needs to catch in the next couple of games we play,” Tuberville said. “Robert’s overcome his problem, hopefully. I think he’s woken up a little bit.”
That problem was a violation of practice policy, which led to a two-game suspension for the junior. Dunn didn’t make the trip to Baton Rouge, La., for Auburn’s game against LSU on Oct. 20. He was also held out of the Oct. 27 win over Ole Miss.
Lester’s absence noticed
As expected, Auburn sophomore running back Ben Tate started Saturday’s game in place of Brad Lester, who is nursing a lingering groin injury and was held out.
Backup Mario Fannin split carries with Tate, but Auburn’s running game suffered against Tennessee Tech from the Football Championship Subdivision — formerly Division I-AA.
The Tigers were held to 115 total rushing yards, a paltry 3.2-yard average. Fannin and Tate each carried the ball 14 times. Fannin picked up 59 yards, and Tate had 41.
“We normally would have run the ball a little bit more in the second half,” Tuberville said, “but we threw the ball. We tried to get it to our wide receivers.”
Groves at linebacker
Former defensive end Quentin Groves, who was moved to linebacker Monday, said his first game at the new position was “pretty fun.” He said the main difference between end and linebacker was the speed of the game.
“It was fast,” said Groves, who is still one sack away from being Auburn’s all-time career leader in that category. “You move a lot faster than defensive end.”
Savage back in lineup
Safety Aairon Savage saw his first playing time and first start since the fifth game of the season. The injury-plagued sophomore sprained his ankle in the season opener.
He returned for the Florida game but twisted his knee against the Gators, sidelining him for another month.
Eric Brock had been filling in for Savage at the free safety spot. Brock returned to his normal strong safety position Saturday, replacing Zac Etheridge, who missed his first start of the season.
Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said Etheridge could have played, but coaches kept him out because of a bad shoulder and hip.
Bowling in the Outback
For the second straight week, representatives from the Outback Bowl passed out pamphlets to reporters during the game. Auburn hasn’t been invited to play in the Outback Bowl since 1995 when Terry Bowden’s Tigers lost 43-14 to Penn State.
The Outback and Cotton bowls get the third and fourth selections from the SEC. 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.
With Auburn’s win over Ole Miss on Oct. 27, the Tigers became bowl eligible for the eighth straight year. That’s the second-longest streak in school history. The school record for consecutive bowl appearances is nine (1982-90).
Auburn has now won 16 straight homecoming games, pushing its all-time record to 68-8-5 on homecoming.
The last homecoming loss came in 1991 when Auburn fell to Mississippi State 24-17. The Tigers lost three of their last four games after dropping that homecoming contest. Auburn finished that year 5-6, its first losing campaign since Pat Dye’s first season in 1981.
Lee returns kickoffs
With starting running back and kick returner Lester out of the game for precautionary reasons, cornerback Patrick Lee returned kicks alongside Fannin.
Lee returned kicks for the first five games of this season, before Lester’s suspension ended. Lee had one return for 12 yards.
McCay named queen
Auburn native Hollon McCay, a senior in public relations, was crowned the school’s homecoming queen during halftime ceremonies.
The other four finalists were Rachel Kizziah, Mary Kathryn Marti, Jessica Minder and Emily Ann Quattlebaum. The queen was elected by a vote of the Auburn student body.
>Grading the Tigers
Decatur Daily Sports Writer Ross Dellenger grades Auburn’s performance in Saturday’s 35-3 win over Tennessee Tech, giving the Tigers a letter grade from A+ to F in four categories.
The Tigers were stuffed on the run, gaining 115 yards on 36 carries for a 3.2 gain per play. With starting running back Brad Lester out, there was an expected dropoff but not this much. Quarterback Brandon Cox played for the first 18 minutes, completing 9 of his 11 attempts for 167 yards and a touchdown.
Tech managed to break the 300-yard barrier against Auburn’s reserve defenders, but the Tigers never gave up a touchdown. Auburn had an interception and a fumble recovery and forced a three-and-out on the three occasions that Tech moved inside the 20-yard line.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C+
Ugh. Another poor outing for a group that has struggled all year. Auburn gave up a whopping 144 yards on six kickoffs, including a 67-yard return in the first quarter.
THE BIG PICTURE: B-
The Tigers now focus their attention on a much larger task with a road game at Georgia and the Iron Bowl looming. Key areas like kickoff coverage and the running game need to improve if Auburn is to win the rest of the way.
Best and worst
Best kickoff return duo: Tennessee Tech’s two kickoff returners are named Henry Sailes and Larry Shipp. Get it ... Shipp and Sailes.
Best way to spoil a shutout early: Auburn’s lowly kickoff coverage team allowed a 67-yard return on its first kickoff of the game, which led to a 28-yard field goal. Sailes fielded the kick at the 18-yard line and returned it to the Auburn 16. Sailes entered the game averaging 26 yards a return.
Best way to enliven a home crowd at a lame game: Do the wave. The Auburn student section got the wave started midway through the second quarter. It lasted for a good five minutes before dying off.
Worst fan dance: A crazed Auburn fan, decked in orange and blue and holding two pom-poms in each hand, dances in the stands before every game. He always seems to get on the high-definition Jumbotron at Jordan-Hare Stadium, encouraging the odd behavior. The fan see-saws sideways and makes circles with both hands. During this rather boring game, the fan decided to do that dance while the game was going on. And yes, he got on the Jumbotron.
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